Bits & pieces 9: Coconut yoghurt & baked oats

I've written here before about my love of breakfast. I don't understand those people who rush out the door with nothing in their bellies. Lately, I've gotten into preparing my breakfast the night before so I just need to assemble in the morning. While I love a berry or green smoothie as much as the rest of the smoothie-drinking world, at the moment I just want oats. Be it porridge made with soaked steel cut oats, raw with nut milk or yoghurt, or baked the night before into a delicious cakey goodness. Baked carrot cake oats

Above is my adaptation of Baked Carrot Cake Oatmeal from the wonderful Green Kitchen Stories. I omitted the nuts, added desiccated coconut and poppy seeds to the topping, and made it with chia seeds instead of eggs. Delicious. It's definitely good enough for both dessert and breakfast.

This week I'm going try out this recipe for homemade coconut milk yoghurt for the second time. My first attempt at making it a couple of weeks ago, failed miserably for some unknown reason. It kinda curdled. Ew. I'm determined to make it work though as I love yoghurt but, like most dairy products, I don't really eat it much as it brings me out in eczema. Secondly, we actually have an Easiyo yoghurt maker that I bought the boyfriend a couple of years back. He got bored with it though and would rather spend his kitchen time perfecting a loaf of sourdough than faffing around with yoghurt. Said yoghurt maker is sitting unloved on top of our kitchen cupboards so I'm determined to use it by making my coconut milk version.

Have you ever tried making your own coconut milk yoghurt? How do you like oats? Baked, raw or cooked stove top?

X c

An ode to ginger & molasses cake — The Violet Bakery Cookbook

Violet cakes cookbook It's fair to say that I'm giddy with excitement to have a copy of The Violet Bakery Cookbook in my hot little hands. Only released a couple of days ago, I have been waiting/hoping for this book since I first tasted Ptak's ginger and molasses cake back in about 2007 after buying some from her then-new Broadway Market stall. For nearly four years now, I've lived a mere hop, skip and a jump from the Violet cafe on Hackney's well-hip Wilton Way. I don't frequent the bijou bakery as much as I could (waistline woes) but sometimes, when the sweet tooth takes hold, we pop in for cakes as an afternoon tea treat. Salted caramel icing, deeply dark chocolate cake, lemon drizzle cake, sticky buns and more fill the old glass shop case. I can never decide. Served up on utility vintage crockery, accompanied with lashings of tea or a strong coffee, it's a lovely spot to while away an hour.

Violet cakes

Wilton Way blossom

The ginger and molasses cake for me, that is the stuff dreams are made of. I love baking and whipping up cakes, so over the last few years I have tried to recreate the ginger and molasses cake several times. While they've always turned out damn tasty, I've never quite nailed it. So it is now I can say thank you, thank you Claire, from the bottom of my heart for this beautiful book that will allow me to recreate your incredible cakes in my own tiny kitchen. I know exactly what I'm doing this Sunday.

Violet cakes cookbook 3

This beautiful book has dozens of yummy recipes I'm looking forward to trying out, all beautifully photographed by Kristin Perers, an East London photographer, whose gorgeous Instagram feed I've been double-tapping for while.

The Violet Bakery Cookbook by Claire Ptak is out now.


p.s. You can see the another piece I wrote about Violet Cakes over on This is Your Kingdom.

p.p.s More cake musing here.

N.B. This post isn't sponsored, I bought this book myself. I just really, really like baking cakes.

Boozy spelt Christmas cake and Chickpea magazine

Vegan Spelt Christmas cake See ya 2014! You've been a good-un. I'm in bed with a rotten cold and am trying cheer myself up with this stack of brilliant inspiration from friends and family, near and far. My bedside reading today includes the gorgeous and brilliant vegan quarterly magazine, Chickpea. And it features a recipe for boozy spelt Christmas cake - written by me! (Hooray). Soon I'm going to drag my sorry self from my sickbed and whip up some coconut oil frosting for said cake which is now nicely boozy with brandy. It's become a bit of a tradition to cut my Christmas cake on New Year's Eve over the last couple of years, and while I'm not a fan of traditional Christmas cakes, I do like making my own version. We're planning on staying in this evening and cracking open the bubbles - should mix well with the cold and flu tablets. It's the first time in a very long time that I haven't gone out partying on New Year's Eve and I'm looking forward to it. Fingers crossed I can keep my eyes open 'til midnight. Wishing you all a wonderful 2015. x Photo for Chickpea magazine by Arthur Ravenscrag

Sunday bake off: Making magnificent meringues

As a born-and-bred New Zealander, I naturally feel a sense of ownership and fondness towards the Pavlova. Equally, as someone who has adopted the UK as their home for the last 7 years, I love a good Eton mess. My experiences with baking meringue, both in it's huge pavlova form and mini-mounds of crunchy goodness, have always been somewhat hit-and-miss.  My mother is the queen of Pav baking. My sister creates decadent mounds piled high on a cake stand with whipped cream and fruit that looks like it's leapt straight off one of the pages of an Ottolenghi cookbook. My attempts? Either magnificent or pathetic.  Either, 'Oh look it's perfect!' or (more likely), 'Oh crap, it's a disaster'. This week for a last supper with a friend, who is all visa-approved off to New York after 20 years in London, I decided to give meringue making another crack and try and work out if there is a tried-and-true method. My friend's also originally from NZ, so in a nod to both his childhood and his adult years in London, something somewhere between Eton Mess and Pavlova seemed appropriate. Making magnificent meringues Inspired by Leigh's post on Rosewater and Pistachio meringues, I considered giving my old-favourite Ottolenghi's recipe a go. But I found myself turning towards the very gorgeous Love Bake Nourish by Amber Rose (yet another expat New Zealander). A gift from my sister, it's become my go-to baking cookbook these days. I've tried out several recipes and they've all been a success. I'm a huge fan of using maple syrup, raw sugar, spelt flour and unusual ingredients, and this book is full of nourishing recipes using interesting and natural ingredients. (Her lovely instagram is worth a follow too for daily prettiness and inspiration.) Love Bake Nourish Maple syrup meringues (adapted from Love Bake Nourish by Amber Rose) Serves 6 to 8, depending on size. Or three people who REALLY love meringue. 2 teaspoons cornflour 2 teaspoons cider vinegar 6 large free-range eggs whites (I used medium sized eggs as that was all I could get nearby) Pinch of salt 200g unrefined golden caster sugar (I used raw granulated sugar) 2 tablespoons of maple syrup 1 tablespoon vanilla extract (I'd run out but didn't worry about it) IMG_2800 1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. Or thereabouts if you're temperatures have worn off the oven like mine. Line baking sheets with baking paper. I only needed one baking sheet but you might need two depending on how big you'd like your meringues. Eggs yolks 2. Save your yolks for breakfast/dinner tomorrow. Mix the cornflour and vinegar well in a little bowl until well combined and lump free. 3. I used my kitchen aid mixer for this step which is a blessing when it comes to making meringues. I have made them successfully with a hand mixer too.  Whisk the eggs whites with the salt until stiff peaks form. 4. Add the sugar a tablespoon at a time, alternating with really small amounts of the vinegar mix. Whipping up a storm 5. Keep going until it's all combined. The meringue should be really thick and glossy. At this stage it looked just how I remembered my mum's best pavlova mixtures. 6. Add the fold syrup, folding through with a metal spoon. Pile high in mounds on the baking tray. You should get about 6-8. 7. Put in the oven and immediately turn the oven down to 100 degrees C. Bake for about 1.5 to 2 hours, then turn the oven off and let the meringues cool in the oven. Meringues TA-DA! Amber Rose' recipe then goes on to make caramelised pears to serve atop the meringues. I'm not a fan of pears (does anyone else think they are gritty?) so topped mine with fresh strawberries, raspberries, chopped roasted hazelnuts and whipped cream. DELISH. Chewy, a little crunchy and a bit fluffy. Sadly, we'd a had a few too many wines by the time I dished them up so there are no photos. The secret to making the perfect meringue? I think it's down to a little patience, a lot of whipping and very fresh free-range eggs. The right temperature oven (mine is always a guesstimate as the temps have been cleaned off!) plays a big part, and the time to leave them to cool in the oven. It's a good idea to make them the night before and turn off the oven before you go to bed. If you take them out before they've cooled, you run the risk of collapsing and cracking meringues. And I think the maple syrup really gives extra chewiness and flavour. Have you ever tried making meringues or pavlova? What's your secret? x C

Sunday bake off: When I made a vegan wedding cake...

I will never understand people who say they don't really like cake. I mean, really? What is not to like about gooey, sticky, double-chocolate fudge cake? Or light-as-air sponge cake dripping with passion fruit icing, layered with jam and cream?

But then again, maybe it's just me. Cake. I love cake. I think I like baking cakes even more than I like eating them. Now that the other half and I live on our own I have more space to bake. Away from the busy kitchen of my previous flat, filled with gin-drinking and wine-drinking, chatting, fabulous girls. Cakes are being baked far more frequently. I have space for several types of flour. And sugars. My Kitchenaid mixer is not packed away in its box and now has a permanent spot on the bench. Baking is good for the soul (if not so good for the hips).

It's not even the taste that does it for me (don't get me wrong I'll always have at least one slice) - it's the visual feast of cakes that I enjoy the most. Icing, berries, cream, little people toppers, mini bunting and then flowers on top. And cake plates and cake stands (which I don't love as much as my sister but I still have more than I need). Then there's cake forks and cake tins... I won't go on. You see, I just really like cakes.

My old friends Louise and Dan got hitched at the end of last year in a lovely low key ceremony at Islington Town Hall. Guess who had volunteered to bake the wedding cake? Yip, me. (I took care of hair flowers and button holes too but that's for another day).

I didn't want a structured, iced to strict perfection wedding cakes like these. No, I like cakes to look baked, and although it sounds cheesey, that they have been baked with love. Not carved from polystyrene.

It was a very busy week and I hadn't had enough time for a trial run. To make matters more complicated, several of the guests (and my best buddies) are vegan. So no cream, eggs or butter could be included. I've made quite a few vegan cakes before, but I wanted something special. Then I was told about this recipe for Raspberry Blackout cake. I adapted it slightly and baked it in two different circular cake tins so I could create tiers. The final touch was just lashings of vanilla icing and fresh raspberries.

That's me above putting on the finishing touches at their house after transporting it in pieces by taxi. Topped off with baby bunting I made earlier. And I'm pretty pleased to say not even crumb was left the next day.

Image 1: Sweet Dee Design on Etsy Image 2 & 4 by Luke Image 3, iPhone pic by me.

No resolutions around here.

I have very little willpower and even less when faced with a large glass of Merlot. So there'll be no hard and fast resolutions around here.  I've set myself what I like to think of as goals, plans and dreams for 2011 instead:

  • Get some sunshine and visit the homeland. According to the doctor I am actually quite deficient in Vitamin D and because you need Vitamin D to absorb calcium I’m lacking in that too. So what better excuse for a trip home. Hurrah, flights to New Zealand are booked for February – four weeks of sun, family and friends. And introducing Mr Ukulele to a New Zealand summer. We're stopping over in Tokyo for four nights on the way back to London (and to break the 28 hour plane flights ugh). I can hardly contain my excitement. Yippee!
  • See my friends more. 2010 was great but I often felt I didn’t see my friends as much I’d have liked, mostly due to tiredness, work and other commitments. 2011 I will be more sociable. I promise.
  • Discover Italy. I’ve only been to Venice and I’m hankering for a short Italian holiday. Perhaps for my birthday. Or I after I've paid off our big trip first!
  • Not let things get on top of me. Work is, well work. I'm planning on liking that more this year. And house sharing is always a barrel of laughs, love the girls but not necessarily all the other bollocks that comes with a full busy household, like bills, leaking showers, broken boilers, dirty dishes, and mess…
  • …which leads me to the plan to move in with the Mr Ukulele properly after our five weeks away. I’m sure the joys of trying to find a cute one-bedroom flat to rent in London (which doesn’t cost the earth and isn’t a dump) will be endless but still I can’t wait.
  • Make the most of my fabulous new Christmas present – a KitchenAid mixer! I will be christening it this weekend by doing some baking, probably something from the recipe book Chocolate Heartache. But made vegan for my afternoon tea party with friends. This year I will be baking machine.
  • Drink less but drink better. Nicer wine, preferably vegetarian and no dodgy bottles from the offie. (Unless it’s been a really god awful day) Cut out the beer all together, unless it extremely hot, like when we’re in NZ in February… uh-oh I can see myself failing that one.
  • Cut out dairy where at all possible. As a vegetarian I find myself often craving and eating too much cheese. And I’m not sure it’s particularly good for me. I’m halfway through reading ‘Eating Animals’ and I think cheese is ruined for me forever.
  • Walk more. I like walking around and observing, thinking. It's obviously good for the hips too. So I'm going to ignore the cold and wrap up warm and walk whenever I can and when I'm not commuting great distances for work.
  • Get the Mr to teach me how to play the ukulele that he gave me as a bit of a joke for Christmas last year. Failing that, I gave him a gorgeous vintage tambourine as one of his Christmas presents this year. Perhaps I'll just give that a bash. It's complete with tatty old ribbons I'm going to replace. I’m thinking I'll be channelling Stevie Nicks circa 1977.
  • Be a better blogger, write more frequently and get a better camera.
  • And finally, and perhaps most importantly, I’m going to start making more stuff. Make some space for the sewing machine, make some Liberty print cushions, frame some pictures, do some embroidery and sew myself a dress. I haven’t really made much or sewn much since I came to London and I miss it.

Not sure how each will relate to each other, and if indeed they are all possible. Not eating cheese will be challenge and not drinking beer in the NZ sunshine perhaps even harder! What are the challenges you’ve set for yourself this year and can you give me any advice for achieving mine? What do you have in store for us 2011?

Cake - one of your five a day

I have a thing for cake recipes that contain vegetables.  My favourite cake recipe for the last couple of years has been a beetroot chocolate cake. It's completely decadent and mouth wateringly good. I've made it for many birthdays and even dinner parties. Beetroot and chocolate - yum.

Recently the beetroot cake has been surpassed by the Pistachio Chocolate Cake from Harry Eastwood's book 'Red Velvet & Chocolate Heartache'.  It is probably one of the best cake recipes I've used and has been a success each time I've made it.  It has ground up pistachios and grated courgettes in it, which give it an amazing texture.

It doesn't rise much, probably because it's made with rice flour, but once filled with 'Naughty Chocolate icing' you don't even notice.

I'm not sure that you could count the courgette in this cake as one of your five a day but it's definitely worth the effort. So far this is the only cake I've attempted from the book as I just can't imagine any of the others being better.  Perhaps I should give the Red Velvet cake a try next.... it is made with beetroot after all.