I cook an evening meal for my family every night and eighty per cent of the time I enjoy the process more than I enjoy the meal. I’m a good cook, (she says with eyes modestly downcast), but as with most cooks, I tend to lose interest in the product of my labour by the time it’s placed on the table. I think this is related to saturation of the senses during the cooking process and, more prosaically, nibbling as you cook.
This lack of interest in the finished dish is no bad thing as I, like most middle-aged people, have to keep a weather eye on unwanted weight gain. Yes, terribly dreary, but this is how it is. And given this state of affairs – enjoying cooking but not the weight gain associated with eating all that I make – what can I do? I cannot force-feed my family or harass passers-by to come inside and eat cakes and jellies. So I decided to harness my cooking urges and, through a simple online arrangement and the generosity of my friends, raise funds for the UNHCR, United Nations High Commission for Refugees.
For my inaugural big bake, Let Us Eat Crumbs, I made Banana Cupcakes, Strawberry Summer Cake and Muscovado Peanut biscuits. We drank English Breakfast tea, watched the French romantic comedy Populaire and ate cakes and biscuits and my wonderful guests made such generous donations we raised enough money for 700 blankets for refugee families from Syria. I’ll be doing this again in the Autumn.
Banana Cupcakes with Honey Cinnamon Frosting
A delicious recipe from Martha Stewart. The icing is particularly good.
1 and 1/2 cups plain flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda (bicarb of soda for Australians)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 and a 1/2 cups mashed bananas (about 4 ripe bananas)
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees or 180 C. Line a standard 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Make a well in center of flour mixture. In well, mix together butter, mashed bananas, eggs, and vanilla. Stir to incorporate flour mixture (do not overmix). Dividing evenly, spoon batter into muffin cups. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center of a cupcake comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove cupcakes from pan; cool completely on a wire rack. Spread tops with Honey-Cinnamon Frosting.
Honey Cinnamon Icing
1 and 1/4 cup icing sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon honey
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
In a medium bowl, using an electric mixer, beat icing sugar, unsalted butter, honey, and ground cinnamon until smooth, 4 to 5 minutes.
Strawberry Summer Cake
This recipe is from the fantastic cooking blog Smitten Kitchen, one of my favourite food blogs
I followed the recipe on Smitten Kitchen exactly as it’s presented and wouldn’t tinker with it except to say make the cake with the best strawberries you can get your hands on. Dull, woody strawbs just won’t cut it.
Muscovado and Peanut Biscuits
These biscuits are from Dan Lepard’s wonderful book Short and Sweet, a book I had to have after cooking several of his recipes I found elsewhere. These biscuits, or cookies as he calls them, are strange little creatures, neither one thing nor the other. I was tempted to leave out the lemon and cocoa as it didn’t feel right, but then I stayed true to my basic cooking rule, which is First Time – cook it the way they say to cook it. Next Time – make adjustments if necessary. Invariably I fiddle at the edges of most recipes, which is the fun part of cooking, I think. But you can go too far with recipe fiddling and strike disaster, so exercise restraint and don’t gaily tossing everything out.
75g unsalted butter, softened
50g crunchy peanut butter
225g muscovado or dark molasses sugar
1 good tbsp black treacle or molasses – (I left this out – Pip)
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1 large egg
200g plain flour
1 tbsp cocoa
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
175g salted peanuts
In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter, peanut butter, sugar, treacle and lemon until smooth. Add the egg and beat in really well. Add the flour, cocoa and soda, mix until the soft dough is smooth, then stir in the peanuts.
Heat the oven to 180C (160C fan-assisted)/350F/gas mark 4 and line a baking tray with foil or nonstick paper. Place round, teaspoon-sized balls of the dough on to the tray, spaced 5cm apart, and bake for 12-14 minutes, until puffed. Remove the tray from the oven and leave for five minutes to set slightly, then use a spatula to move the cookies to a wire rack or cold plate to cool.