Monday, August 15, 2016

Coffee and Duolingo reminds me of Gilmore girls

This week we had a really fun and impressive anniversary. My fiancé hit a one year streak on Duolingo!! That is one whole year without missing a single day! That is very impressive to me, I think the most I have managed is about 10 days, but then if you've been reading this blog for any amount of time then my constant efforts to work on consistency won't be a surprise!!

Anyway back to my partner, to celebrate we decided to do a cake and when I asked him he said 'Coffee!' which may have been more to do with him wanting a cup of coffee than any specific cake design concepts.But We figured out a way to give him both!

This cake was so much fun to make. It. COntains 3 separate. cakes. One 7" and two that are basically oversized muffins each approx 3" diameter. Then there's the frosting. I used 3 types, ganache, buttercream and marshmallow fluff .The ganache was a combination of whipped and fudgy ganache to give a woodgrain look. The outside of the.cups is butter cream and the foam on top is the fluff. After that I just added a tiny bit of fondant/flower paste for the handles and raised decorations and we were away!

The cake needed to be sturdy so I did a coffee pound cake. For future reference I would add a coffee syrup for texture and extra flavour. However I think this was still pretty delicious! Here's how I put it together, recipe at the end.

I divided the main cake and first filled with fudgy ganache

Then coated it in whipped ganache and smoothed it out

Then I split the mini cakes, filled them with ganache and added them to the top of the cake, Being careful to avoid crumbs!!

Then I added a top coating of ganache before frosting with buttercream. I piped a rim for the mugs from butter cream also. The butter cream was initially difficult to smooth so I got it as smooth as possible and then let it set up in the fridge before applying greaseproof paper and smoothing further.

The handles were a mixture of fondant and flower paste, as mentioned above. If these are not things you have lying around you could feasibly make a play dough from flour, water and food dye and leave it it dry in the oven or the sun. Just be sure that no-one tries to eat it!

Finally there was the issue of the froth/cream. For this I made a homemade marshmallow fluffy using marshmallows and some agave nectar. It worked beautifully imho. However word to the wise- this stuff is Hella sticky, so keep some tools and a food scissors in a bath of hot water nearby while applying.

And that's it! Simples! Not really....but fun!

Coffee Cake Recipe

220g Butter
220g Sugar
280g Plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp instant coffee + 2 tbsp boiling water

285g Dark Chocolate
285/1 container double cream

100g unsalted butter
200g Icing sugar
1 tbsp Milk
Black food colouring

Marshmallow fluff
3 jumbo marshmallows
1 tsp Agave nectar

1 - Preheat oven to 180'. Beat together butter and sugar

2- Sieve together the flour, baking powder and baking soda

3 - Alternate additions of flours and eggs

4 - Add the coffee and vanilla

1 - Heat the cream

2 - Chop chocolate into small pieces and pour over the hot cream

3 - Leave the chocolate and cream to sit and then mix thoroughly

4 - Leave to sit for at least 30 minutes to cool fully before whipping

1 - Beat together the butter and icing sugar

2 - Add milk and food colouring

Marshmallow fluff
1 - Melt marshmallows in the microwave for 30 seconds

2 - Add the agave nectar and add to the top of the cups immediately

I am not going to get to worked up encouraging you to do this at home as I appreciate it's not a one hour job. However I will say that if you have a loved one that deserves a special treat it is probably less work thanks you would imagine! The whole thing really reminded me of Gilmore Girls and as a result I got through a few episodes while putting the cake together, which means that the review will be soon. (I don't know why I am constantly teasing this review......setting myself up for failure)

Otherwise I hope you enjoy this fun post and I will return next week with something a little more normal but just as delicious!!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Simple things and stranger things

This week has been awesome and then tremendously empty. Once you find Stranger Things,  get completely hooked and then realise that there are only 8 episodes. Well everything has slightly less shine now! Aw, I joke but honestly this show is fantastic!! It creates such a wonderful atmosphere of 80s nostalgia and childhood adventure with a hint of the mysterious paranormal!

Image property of Netflix

So I thought naturally that I would accompany this post with a simpler thing - Scones.

Scones are one of the first things I ever learnt to make, scones and brownies. When I was about the age of the Stranger Things kids, maybe a little younger. My Mum taught me how to make these two things from a Darina Allen book and I was absolutely enthralled!! I felt like I was being taught some kind of super-power;You can just make treats?! Mind-blown! Well as you can tell, I started there and didn't stop but today I wanted to revisit the ole favourite with a bit of a healthy twist. 

Obviously scones are sweet breads so they are inevitably carbs but I have made a few adjustments to make them as healthy as carbs can be, and honestly you wouldn't know he difference. They definitely passed the fiancé test. These two lasted about five minutes between us.

So what are the adjustments - the flour is a fine ground wholemeal flour. Fine ground is important here, it can be called pasta flour but it makes a very big difference.

The second big alteration, these contain no added sugar. They are sultana scones and thereis  natural sugars in the sultanas but otherwise there is no sugar, no sweetner and no way to tell that it's no added sugar, I promise!

The secret is to soak the sultanas in tea. The tea adds a depth of flavour anyway but as the sultanas are soaked the natural sugars seep into the tea and then the whole lot is added into the scones which adds just enough sweetness, not to mention beautiful plump juicy sultanas. So you would never know that I didn't add sugar, why not give it a try?!

Healthy Scones (Wholemeal, No Added Sugar) (Makes 12 large)

1-1.5 Cups Sultanas
Black tea - enough to cover the above

500g Wholemeal fine ground plain flour
1 tsp Baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp Nutmeg
1/2 tsp all-spice
1 egg
2 tbsp milk of choice
2 tbsp oil of choice (I used almond)

Egg-wash to beautify

1 - Soak the sultanas for at least an hour up to overnight

2 - Preheat oven to 180'C. Sieve together the flour, baking powder and spices

3 - Pour in the sultanas and mix

4 - Add the rest of the wet ingredients and mix until a dough is formed

5 - Knead the dough for 5-10 minutes

6 - Form into even sized balls, try to hide the sultanas inside, and place on a lined baking tray

7 - Egg-wash to finish and bake for 15-20 minutes or until hollow sounding when tapped.

8 - Allow to cool and enjoy with some sneaky butter ;)

Perfect for enjoying during an episode of Stranger things. I haven't spoken about it much but I feel that I don't wish to spoil anything. Suffice is to say that it is well, well worth watching! My favourite character was Eleven, shortly followed by Dustin, toothless kid, because he was just a hero and so cute whenever he speaks! If you don't have Netflix, get it, there is more and more amazing ontent there every week. I am not sponsored to say this, I just appreciate Netflix more and more every day and you will need it to see Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, which I will review, episode by episode! Not to mention catching up, or rewatching Gilmore girls as I am doing right now to put together a full review for you shortly. So anyway for now, watch Stranger things, make these scones and thank me later =)

Monday, August 1, 2016

Apple and Salted Caramel Cake

This week a very good friend asked if I could make a cake for them. I was absolutely delighted to do so and the requested cake was Apple and Salted Caramel

I had never actually made an apple and salted caramel cake before so I decided to do a little research. I found a delicious looking recipe on the Brown Eyed Baker and I must say that her cake looks amazing. However, naturally I had to make a couple of little adaptations and I am very happy with how it turned out. Firstly I wanted to make the cake lighter and more summer appropriate, so less spicy. I also wanted to include fresh apple to make it taste more fresh. Finally I came up with my own easy to make icing and some interactive decorations

Chocolate apple of mystery!!
Two delicious layers of apple cake were covered in frosting

before three little apples were placed on top

Excuse the on location picture quality
And the apples, well let me show you how they work.....


Fun right?!

Apple Salted Caramel Cake (adapted from BrownEyedBaker)

Apple Cake (enough for 2x9" Cake layers)

340g Butter
400g Caster Sugar
75g Brown Sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
500g Cake Flour (Plain flour with 8 tbsp replaced by cornflour)
1 tsp Baking powder
2 tsp Baking soda
1/2 tsp all spice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 eggs
4 cups grated apple in 2 lemons worth of lemon juice

Salted Caramel Icing (enough for this cake)

280g Salted Butter
560g Icing Sugar
60ml Caramel Sauce

Caramel Sauce recipe that I used


1- Preheat oven  to 180'C and grease and line your cake tin

2 - Beat together the butter and sugar, beat in the vanilla extract

3 - Sieve together the flour, baking powder and soda and spices

4 - Beat the eggs together

5 - Add portions of the eggs and flour to the butter alternating between the two, leaving a portion of flour

6 - Add the grated apple and the remaining flour.

7 - Divide between 2 9" cake tins. Wrap the tins in tin foil to protect and bake for 45-50minutes.

8 - Allow the cake to cool in the tin.

*Note - This is a very soft and light cake and needs to cool completely in the tin to be workable but the texture upon eating is just perfect!!*

9 - Beat together the butter icing sugar and caramel sauce for the frosting.

10- Ice the cake - First do a crumb coat - there will be crumbs. Although I think a naked cake version would also be awesome

Finish the icing and make the chocolate apples.

To make these I used half circl moulds and dark chocolate. I found the bet technique was to paint the chocolate onto the mould to achieve even layers. Then set and melt the edge to get two half circles together

I made a hole in the top and filled with more caramel sauce. Then filled in the hole with a pretzel stick.

Then when the cake is ready to be eaten, just cut the apples and enjoy the show!!

So that's it! I hope you enjoy and try it out for yourself!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Trying something new without commiting

It's interesting that in my last post I was writing about marriage and in this post I want to focus on trying new things without having to commit fully.

Sun setting over the clouds

Back in May I wrote a post about trying a week without milk. It was something really different for me because I really love dairy. I mean REALLY love it!!! I would probably go through about 5 litres of milk a week and then cheese; cheddar, cottage, brie and then yoghurt and whey protein and ice-cream. The list goes on and on but the main point is I consume a lot of dairy. In fact, when I think about it I would probably say that the majority of my protein came from dairy sources. I used to be a vegetarian for years and while I switched back to including white meat and fish when I moved in with my fiancé, I still wouldn't eat a huge amount of it. Therefore I got most of my protein from dairy and I loved it!!

KerryMaid Country

However recently I have been doing some thinking and soul searching. Now I am not, absolutely not, going to stand here and criticise anyone else. Neither am I here to preach because lord knows I have consumed enough dairy in the last few years to feed probably about 5 people, so..... But there are a lot of people out there advising against too much dairy, for a variety of reason and I guess I have started to wonder if eating this much dairy is right for me?! And right now........ I'm not sure what the answer to that is.

So, I've decided to try something new, without making a massive commitment. So before the Vegan police descend - I cannot and will not tell you, or myself that I will never consume dairy again. In fact, I think I will probably deliberately leave myself the possibility of consuming dairy for ever, in a limited way, in one form or another. I mean I'm a baker, for goodness sake, and not a massive believer in overly processed substitutes. I may well be converted one day. However for the moment I have decided to try going dairy free for a little while and see how it is.

Also another side note to the Vegan Police - I am not Vegan, I do not claim to be Vegan. I have good people in my life who are Vegan and I respect them and their, at times, difficult choices for the benefit of animals. I believe in making some Vegan choices and you will see a number of Vegan recipes or alterations on my blog. However as a baker, a food blogger and a psychologist there is one thing that I firmly believe in and that is spreading hate and attacking people is never okay!! I understand that you view meat as murder, it kind of is, and I realise that living in a world where this is the norm frustrates you greatly. However I WON'T EVER agree that hateful behaviour towards others will successfully promote your cause. If anything it will shut down the very conversation you wish to start. So I compel anyone who finds this blog and feels the need to attack me or anyone else for where they are on their journey with food to just leave. This is not the place for you! 

That said I welcome and am excited by anyone who would like to share with me their story with dairy and their experiences with dairy-free too!! Particularly any tips! Please?!

So this week I tried an exciting new recipe and I wanted to share. You may remember if you read my previous post about giving up milk that I am on a bit of a quest. If there is even the slightest hope of giving up milk then I need to find something to put in my tea. As a born and bred Irish person, tea is an essential part of the day. In fact you can almost chart my mood based on whether I have had tea, and carbs but that's another story. So I need, NEED a dairy-free milk that will work in tea or this dairy free life is not manageable. I appreciate that this sounds dramatic, but I have come to know myself a little bit and I know I need tea.

So when I discovered this easy homemade cashew milk I jumped for joy!! It's creamy, milky and has minimal lumps. It works perfectly with cereal, amazingly in coffee but ..........awful in tea. So my quest continues but that doesn't diminish my love for cashew milk because this stuff is amazing!!!

Cashew Milk

225g/ 1.5 Cups Cashews
1.4L/ 6 Cups Water
2 Dates
1/2 tsp vanilla

You need - a blender
                 - an airtight glass jar
                 - a sieve (optional)
You Do Not need cheese cloth or any other special straining equipment

1 - Put the cashews in a jar cover with water and let them soak for at least 3 hours.

2 - Drain and rinse the cashews

3- Add Cashews and 1/2 the water into a blender and blend until smooth. At this point add the dates
     and vanilla if you want.

This is now a perfect consistency for creamer if that's your thing, so if you want that then stop here.

4 - Add the rest of the water until you have reached the desired consistency.

5 - Store in an airtight container in the fridge for  3 days, some say 5.

Then just enjoy in a delicious coffee...
This was full at one stage but I honestly couldn't resist it long enough to get photos

Note of caution ; It has been drawn to my attention that there can be an issue with raw cashews and mycotxins and although I have also found research that claims that properly treated and stored cashews contain little or no toxic substances. However I have yet to complete my own research on this subject and if you have any concerns I suggest that you do the same and reach your own conclusions.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Travelling and doctorating etc

I have been away for a while. I genuinely didn't mean to leave it so long and I think it deserves some real talk in explanation. However I will pepper it with some lovely pictures for your entertainment.I will also share a new baking post very very soon.

Recently we travelled back to Ireland and visited some locations for our wedding next year!

I haven't written much about the engagement or the wedding planning on here and if I'm honest I think that has been a major reason for my absence. I'm not completely certain why I chose not to write about the engagement etc but I'm guessing it had something to do with the fact that it didn't belong to me alone. You see my fiancé is quite a private person and I fully respect that. You may have noticed that he never appears in this blog much. Sure, I make reference to him is various ways; bf, partner, the boy etc but I've kept it deliberately vague in order to give as little away as possible.

You will have seen snippets of him -

Isn't he handsome?!

But that could be anyone really!

So now when we decided to make our two lives into one -

Well suddenly it felt like a horse of a different colour! A shiny colour ;)

Seriously though, from the second you get engaged it feels like the wedding is ever present and it has taken up, in a good way, a lot of my thinking since then. In fact, between that and the doctorate, I don't really think about much else. Well my friends and family but you know, they will also be in the wedding so I often think of them that way too!

Showing off in their finery!

And in the mist of all of this excitement, I got a bit lost about how to blog -

I know it sounds old-fashioned, and honestly we are not being old-fashioned about this thing at all, but joining our lives together threw me for a hot minute about which parts I had a right to share and which I should keep private to respect his choices! I cannot even tell you how many times of the last few months that I have sat at the computer and stared at a blank post, with a blank mind! It all felt a little too fake and although I tend to show the happier parts of my life and my baking I am nothing if not real. As evidenced by my previous 'I screw up this recipe,' posts.

If I'm fully honest, this is a process that I am still muddling through. However I think that I have documented so much of our lives together on here (we have been together since before I started this blog) and I love blogging about life and baking. Not to mention that the biggest and best baking project (i.e. my own wedding cake) is also going to be coming up! Well I think I am going to share a little more and show you some of the colour (good and bad) and excitement of this developing experience.

A glimpse of my hubby to be and this green house!
So I hope that you will accept my apology and explanation for my absence and here's to lots more baking fun to come!!

Also in fun news - I got an instagram -

Follow me on instragram at tvancookies

Monday, May 16, 2016

A Dairy-free Birthday Treat

Every year, on my birthday I bake a cake. Not this year, although I went back to dairy this year I decided to give myself the time to work on something else that I have been craving - Almond Butter cups!

As I mentioned in a previous post, we recently took an amazing trip to Vegas! It was wonderful to be in Vegas but also to be in the states again. There were so many things I had missed from my time living there. There were also so many new things that I wanted to try. When you follow various food blogs you get to see some of the delicious new things people are loving in America and around the world. Since my time living in the US, it seems that healthy eating has become much more prevalent and, with it, a whole bunch of exciting new healthy products. One of the things that had tempted me was the Justin's products and particularly his heathy peanut butter cups. However when I went to get some I saw that he included sea salt, which is something that I don't eat. So I disappointedly walked away =(

(It's an unfortunate belief that sea salt is more fancy or healthy than normal salt and therefore many healthy food companies include sea salt in an attempt to appeal to the healthier customer, however it ignores those that cannot take it)

However I never gave up on the idea of a healthy nut butter cup, and preferably my favourite nut butter - Almond! So for this birthday I decided to dedicate my baking time to chocolate work.

Almond Butter Cups

240g Dark Chocolate Chips
100g Almond Butter
50g Almonds, toasted and ground
1-2 tbsp Agave Nectar
1 tbsp Coconut Oil
1 tsp Salt

I used some of my delicious 70% + dark chocolate. I melted down two thirds of it and then added the final third to bring down the temperature and temper the chocolate. Then I poured them into my mini-cupcake cases

For the almond butter centre I mixed store bought almond butter with more toasted ground almonds to thicken it, coconut oil for smoothness, salt in enhance the flavour and a tiny bit of agave nectar for sweetness. I then made little balls and pushed it into the hardened chocolate cases

From there I froze the cups to cool everything and facilitate the covers hardening. Then poured on the bottoms from the tempered chocolate.And then I simply let them hardened et voila...

As you can possibly see, the bases are not completely flat. This is due to the container having a raised lip. However I appreciate the thick bases as it's a nice chunk of chocolate to balance the almond butter.

As you can also see I left some lovely chunks of almond, but this is obviously optional! So now I have my dream treats and I will definitely be making these again, even if they leave a little bit of clean up.....

I would highly highly recommend making these. They are incredibly delicious, vegan, healthy and full of goodness. The best part is that it lasts so much longer than cake. I ate one of these while I typed this tonight and there is still plenty more =)
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