A panoply of (sometimes) lovingly handmade crud.

How to: Spiced apple loaf cake

You can tell I’m feeling stretched when I start making simple rustic cakes like this spiced apple loaf. Although it doesn’t look much, the apple and yoghurt keep it nice and moist, it’s not too sweet and you can really taste the butter, the tang of the apples and the subtle spices. It’s great with a cuppa, doesn’t leave you feeling too guilty, and the prep time is only about half an hour.

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Recipe

Adapted from here.

  • 100g butter
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 100g buttermilk or yoghurt*
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 200g flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 3 medium eating apples
  • 50g walnuts, chopped (optional)

*I used Greek yoghurt. You can make your own buttermilk by adding 1 teaspoon of lemon juice or vinegar to a cup of milk and leaving to stand. The recipe notes say that ordinary milk (or low fat yoghurt, for that matter) works fine but I would worry the cake might be a bit dry. Although with all that apple it’s probably be fine.

Method

1. Preheat oven to 180C (170C fan). Grease a 1lb loaf tin, or similar
2. Melt the butter and leave to cool. Meanwhile, slice or chop your apples. Peeling is optional, I don’t bother.
Whisk the eggs and sugar until well combined and light, 1-2mins
3. Add the butter, milk/yoghurt and vanilla and mix until incorporated
4. Stir in the dry ingredients. You will be left with a very thick batter
5. Add the apples and nuts if using. It will look like a lot of apple but it’s fine. If you want a simple decoration, reserve 10 or so apple slices.
6. Transfer the batter to your greased pan and level the top. Decorate if you want.

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7. Bake for 50-60mins. Check after 40 and cover with foil if it’s looking too brown. Once the cake passes the knife test, remove and transfer to a wire rack to cool.

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It’s best to cut this cake with a sharp knife, otherwise all the bits of apple make the slices uneven. But then you get to ‘clear up’ the crumbs. Yum.

Cross (stitched) words

A few weeks ago I found myself desperate to make something (read: trying to work on my thesis) but lacking in craft materials. I dug through my sewing box and found the last scrap of the aida I bought years ago when I discovered subversive cross stitch. I remembered an idea for a project that came to me a while ago. A friend at University had a wonderful book called Mr Concerned’s Talking Book of Therapy. It was a kind of spoof self-help picture book that played a selection of stock phrases when you pressed buttons on the side. Ah, I found a picture! Thanks, internet.

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The phrases were read in a typical American ‘analyst’ voice and the phrase we listened to the most, and which I still remember nearly ten years on, was:

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I improvised the little floral design using a picture I saw on Tumblr as inspiration. I really like the way the back-stitching looks, it makes the flowers pop much more. The reason the lettering goes over slightly is that this piece of aida was only just big enough for the lettering and I wanted to be able to frame it.

It’s such a shame WordPress doesn’t support GIFs cos I made a cool one that you can look at here.

Fully skirting the issue

Years ago I bought a midi skirt that turned out to be a surprisingly good investment for travelling. In even the most conservative countries, if you cover your knees you will avoid uncomfortable stares and unwanted attention, and you don’t need to worry about offending anyone at religious sites. A full cotton skirt is both a comfort and a delight to wear as you enjoy delicious exotic breezes or tuck it beneath you on the beach. Can you tell I’m dying for a holiday? I’m thrilled to be packing this.

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The second I saw that leaf pattern, it was love.

My mum helped me to make this skirt, so this post isn’t a a proper how-to, more notes that might help someone/me recreate something like this garment if they wanted.

I bought 1.5m of cotton and there was almost none remaining. Notions are a zip and a hook and eye.

We started out by measuring my desired length for the skirt, which was just below the knee. We cut two pieces of fabric that were as wide as the fabric and about 75cm long I think. Making sure the leaves were all facing the same way, I sewed up the side seams, leaving a gap at the top of one of them for the zip.

Note on pattern matching: This is a huge deal in the Great British Sewing Bee and I wanted to show off to mum that I knew about it. Mum described this pattern as having no ‘nap’, a word she uses to mean ‘obvious pattern repeat sections’. The term is used differently on GBSB. Anyway, the point is that with a busy print like this, you don’t need to worry about pattern matching. Ahem.

Anyway, the zip I chose from mum’s bread bin of zips was an invisible one. These are harder to put in than a normal dress zip and require the use of the machine’s zip foot. The key to making sure the zip truly is invisible is sewing as close to the teeth as possible. How we achieved this was by sewing once to secure the zip, then going back over it again closer to the teeth. I think you can see what I mean in the photo below. We stitched in yellow.

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Now it was time to put in the box pleats. We had nearly 90″ of fabric to reduce to 30″ (my waist measurement… don’t judge me) so in the end we needed 16 1.75″ pleats. Mum sewed them down 6″ so there wouldn’t be too much fullness around the tummy.

I then pinned them all open.

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And then basted them ready for the waistband.

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We used a 2″ strip of fabric which was interfaced, sewn double over the right side and then doubled again and sewn to cover the raw edges behind.

I pressed a 1cm hem, folded it double and pressed it again, then top-stiched.

Clear as mud. Now anyone can create their own skirt assuming they know a former professional seamstress and have 8 hours on their hands!

How to: Chocolate cupcakes with white chocolate frosting

These cupcakes were for one of my oldest friends whose dearest wish on her 27th birthday was a cake mountain. I’m pleased with my contribution. These were like the foothills. I know she loves white chocolate, hence the frosting. The crazy sweetness of the frosting is tempered by the rich darkness of the cakes. And glitter. Shiny shiny green glitter to remind us of the time we visited the Leprechaun Museum in Dublin. 20140330-223845.jpg

Pots of delicious gold.

I used my go-to chocolate cupcake recipe, which I halved because I knew there was a strong likelihood that there would be way too much cake at the party. I’ll give the full recipe, which makes 20 cupcakes. I also halved the frosting recipe, and ended up with enough frosting for 8 cupcakes. Again, I’ll give the full recipe. There aren’t many process pictures today because I was baking at night. Check out this earlier post for more pics. Frosting recipe adapted from here.

Ingredients

For the cupcakes

1/4 cup (2 oz) butter, at room temperature

1 cup (7 oz) sugar 2oz (60g) of your favourite chocolate

2 eggs, at room temperature

2 egg yolks, at room temperature

1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon (4 1/2 fl oz) oil. I used walnut.

2 tsp vanilla extract

1/3 cup (3oz) full-fat sour cream*

1 cup (5 oz) plain flour

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 cup (2 oz) cocoa powder

1/2 cup (4 fl oz) room temperature coffee, water or a mixture

*I substituted Greek yoghurt as I didn’t have sour cream. It was okay, but I think the sour cream gives a more moist result, probably due to its higher fat content

For the frosting

6oz (170g) white chocolate, melted and slightly cooled

1 cup (230g) butter, at room temperature

2 cups (240g) icing sugar

¼ cup (60ml) double cream. I substituted milk, but cream gives a better frosting.

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon salt (to taste, be careful if you use salted butter)

Method

  1. Line a muffin tin with paper liners and preheat your oven to 180C (170 fan)
  2. Melt the chocolate. A minute in the microwave should do.
  3. Mix the butter and sugar in a large bowl until well combined. The mixture should resemble wet sand.
  4. Once the chocolate is cool enough to touch, add to the butter and sugar and mix until combined.
  5. Add the eggs and yolks one at a time, beating between each addition.
  6. Add the oil, vanilla and sour cream and mix until combined.
  7. Sift the dry ingredients together into a separate bowl. Add to the wet ingredients in three batches, mixing between each addition.
  8. Add the water or coffee and mix until smooth.
  9. Divide the batter among your paper liners, filling each 2/3 of the way up. 1/3 cup of batter is about right.
  10. Bake for 14-20 minutes, until they pass the toothpick test
  11. Remove from pan immediately to cool on a wire rack. Leave to cool completely before frosting.

Make the frosting

  1. Melt the white chocolate and leave to cool.
  2. In a medium bowl, beat the butter for 1 minute until smooth. I made this frosting by hand with a wooden spoon and it came out really well. However, a hand or stand mixer may have given a slightly smoother result.
  3. Add the icing sugar about 1/2 a cup at a time and mix until smooth after each addition.
  4. Stir in the cooled white chocolate and then beat until creamy.
  5. Add the vanilla extract and salt, to taste.
  6. Add in the cream. If using milk, add slowly and stop when the frosting reaches the consistency you want.
  7. Beat until smooth.
  8. Spoon or pipe onto your cooled cupcakes. My trusty Wilton 1M tip has got a bit bent so the piping wasn’t as gorgeous as normal. Treat your piping tips with gentle loving care, peeps!

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How to: Reversible drawstring project bag

This little project bag featuring this stunning peacock print is a very useful item for any crafter. It’s the perfect size for making socks on the go and the thick canvas material doubled up means that there should be no danger of your needles working themselves through the bag and getting lost. This is also my entry for the Hillary’s Country Crafts competition- Hillary’s Blinds supplied this rather fabulous fabric. I think if I were to do this again, I would use a contrast lining and perhaps a bright blue binding. This is more elegant and understated than the things I usually make! 20140331-104944.jpg

It even stands up on its own! I was inspired by this project here but I made a few changes. The bag is fully reversible, formed of an outer bag and lining bag stitched together.

You will need:

  • 4 12×12″ squares of fabric. I think 2 in a main colour and 2 for a contrast lining would look great. Or patchwork squares! I also think a lighter lining would help the drawstring action.
  • Ribbon or bias binding for the tie (less than 1m)

Finished bag is about 8″ tall with a 6″ square base. You can alter the bag to be any size, just ensure that the squares you cut from the bottom corners in Step 1 are 1/4 of the total width of the fabric. Unless otherwise stated, use a 1/4″ (0.75cm) seam allowance

Method

1. Cut a 3″ square from the bottom corners of each square of fabric. I made a little template from scrap paper to ensure mine were even. 20140330-221042.jpg 20140330-221054.jpg

2. Choose the two squares that will form your outer bag. With right sides facing, stitch along the bottom seam, then the two side seams. Repeat with the other two (lining) pieces. 20140330-221823.jpg

3. Press all your seams open. You will now create the corners in both bags.

4. Take one of your corners with the square removed and open it so that the two seams now meet in the middle. You’re going from this  20140330-222123.jpg

…to this

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5. Stitch across this edge.

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Repeat with the other three corners. You will have two bags that look something like this. 20140330-222538.jpg

6. Now we assemble. Have your outer bag with the right side facing in. Put your lining bag inside it with the right side facing out, i.e. right sides together. Line the seams up carefully and trim the top edges if they’re a bit wonky. You could see in Step 2 that mine needed a trim.

Stitch around the top raw edge, sewing the two bags together. Leave a 3″ gap so you can pull both bags through so they’re the right way around. Once you pull the bags through the gap, you will have this 20140330-223202.jpg

7. Press the seam at the top so it’s nice and neat. Top stitch to close the gap you left for pulling.

8. Mark a line 1″ down from the top edge. You will top stitch this line to create a channel for the drawstring. 20140330-223516.jpg

8. Carefully snip open one of your side seams between the two top stitched rows. You will feed your drawstring through this gap. Attach a safety pin to your ribbon to make the process easier. I always find this step annoying! 20140330-223730.jpg

9. Feed the ribbon all the way through the channel and stick a fork in it, you’re done! You actually could store forks in here if you wanted. 20140331-105006.jpg

How to: Peanut butter cookies

I dug this old recipe out for a friend recently, then a couple of weeks had a sudden irresistible urge to bake. These peanut butter biscuits are great as I almost always have all of the ingredients to hand when I really need some freshly baked goodness in my life. These came out different to how I remembered, but still very tasty. Everyone in my office raved about them.

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They don’t look much but they’re so easy and tasty, who cares? They have a slightly salty sweetness that is very characteristic of American peanut butter. The middles stay soft any gooey if you don’t over bake them. And the prep time is only about 30 mins.

I can’t credit this recipe as I found it on the internet about ten years ago, then converted the cup measurements into weights (badly) so this probably bears almost no relation to the original proportions anyway.

Ingredients

  • 4oz butter
  • 6oz peanut butter (I prefer creamy but used crunchy this time as it was all I had)
  • 10oz brown sugar
  • 3tbsp milk
  • 1tbsp vanilla
  • 14oz plain flour
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 – 3/4tsp salt (to taste)

I have it on good authority added chocolate chips = added yum

Makes about 24 2 inch biscuits

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 190C (175 fan). Line a baking tray with parchment.
  2. Combine peanut butter, butter, sugar, milk, vanilla and egg and mix until well blended
  3. Add the dry ingredients and mix until combined
  4. Drop large teaspoons 2cm apart onto a baking sheet. IMPORTANT NOTE: I’m sure when I used to make these, the batter was a dropping consistency. However, this time it came out as a stiff dough. I hand rolled tablespoons of dough into flat discs for baking (they hardly spread at all in the oven) but rolling up into a sausage using cling film, refrigerating and then slicing into discs would have worked better. I have a feeling my scales may be broken, which could have caused me to use too much flour. Or maybe the last time I wrote down the recipe I made a mistake? Either way, use whichever method works best for the mixture you end up with. I might make a second test-batch of these to see what happens.
  5. ANYWAY, get that shiz into cookie-sized bits onto your tray. Again, this recipe freezes really well at this stage.
  6. 20140327-134628.jpg
  7. Bake for 6-12 minutes, until the cookies are set and beginning to brown.
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  9. Mine look cracked like that because I realised they weren’t going to spread out so I pressed them down with a wooden spoon to stop them getting too thick.
  10. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

How to: Zesty cherry bread

It’s halfway through March and I’ve managed to bake my second loaf of bread. Just to be clear, I don’t own a breadmaker. Like many young people at the moment, the only accommodation I can afford on my low income is a room in a flat-share. I simply don’t have space for much kitchen equipment beyond a hand blender. So you really CAN make lovely fresh breads with just little counter space and your own fair hands. The initial weighing, mixing and kneading takes about half an hour, then five minutes to knock it back and reshape it between the two proves. I always assume TV cooks are lying when they tell you this kind of thing, but it really is true! Go forth and bake bread.

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I was a bit annoyed that the bread caught in the oven (can’t bear to write b*rnt) even though I reduced the temperature and baking time. Definitely feeling persecuted by my oven. I’ll give the times and temperature that Paul Hollywood recommends, perhaps just check it five or ten minutes before the end and adjust the temperature if you know you have an over-zealous cooker. This is a lovely soft white bread with the St Clements tang of citrus zest and bursts of cherry.

Ingredients

  • 500g strong white flour
  • 10g (2 scant tsps) salt
  • 30g (2tbsp) sugar
  • 40g butter, room temperature
  • 15g (2 sachets) fast action yeast
  • 1 lemon, zest only,
  • 3 oranges, zest only
  • 300ml water
  • 75g dried cherries

Method

1. Put all of the ingredients except the cherries and water in a large bowl, with the salt and yeast on opposite sides.

2. Add as much of the water as you need to make a smooth dough, then transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead for 5 minutes.

3. Put back in the bowl, cover and leave to prove for an hour, until doubled in size.

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4. Line a baking tray with parchment. Add the cherries to the dough. It’s probably worth doing this in 3-4 batches so they get distributed evenly.
5. Divide the dough in two and roll each to about 30 cm. Twist them together and tuck the ends under. I would try and tuck the cherries inside the loaf to prevent them being scorched in the oven. Transfer to the tray, cover and leave to rise for another hour.

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6. Preheat oven to 200C (180C fan).
7. Bake for 25 mins, then leave to cool on a wire rack.

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Serve with lashings of butter.


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