Rainy day lemon cake

If, like us, you’ve been experiencing drizzly, grey days lately, you might (like me) have been craving comfort food. I did yesterday, which is why I decided to bake Mary Berry’s lemon drizzle cake. This is a recipe I come back to time and time again, because, for me, it is foolproof. It uses Mary’s all-in-one method, everything just goes in the bowl together and gets mixed up, so it’s super quick to rustle up for guests. The crunchy lemon topping really makes it, and a sneaky slice while the cake is still warm is just DIVINE (well, you have to make sure it tastes OK, right?).

This cake will fill your house with a warming, lemony smell, and draw everyone into the kitchen to find the source. Lemons may not be particularly seasonal right now, but if you’re looking for a cake which is comforting, delicious, and easy to bake, this is it. I usually bake this cake in a round bundt tin, for extra prettiness. But whatever. It’s going to taste just as good whatever you bake it in.

Lemon drizzle cake
from Mary Berry’s Baking Bible

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Ingredients:
225g (8oz) softened butter
225g (8oz) caster sugar
275g (10oz) self-raising flour
2 level teaspoons baking powder
4 eggs
4 tablespoons milk (or enough to make the cake mixture loose and creamy)
finely grated rind of 2 lemons

For the crunchy topping:
couple of tablespoons granulated sugar
juice of 1 lemon (or enough to make a runny mixture)

- Preheat the oven to 160°C/Fan 140°C. Grease a bundt or round cake tin then line the base with baking parchment.
– Measure all the ingredients for the cake into a large bowl or electric mixer and beat until well blended. Turn the mixture into the prepared tin and level the top with the back of a spoon.
– Bake in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes or until the cake has shrunk from the sides of the tin and springs back when pressed in the centre. Leave to cool in the tin for a few minutes then turn out and peel off the baking parchment.
– To make the crunchy topping, mix the granulated sugar and lemon juice in a small bowl to give a runny consistency. Spoon the mixture evenly over the cake while it is still warm. DEVOUR!

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A new dress and a new series

Last weekend, during a trip to London, we managed to fit in a few photos of my latest dress purchase. Remember that visit to the Nadinoo studio I made a couple of months ago? Well, here is the custom dress Nadia made me! It’s a re-working of the raindrop dress, in the beautiful Liberty Claire Aude print I love so much, with an added waist tie which will be perfect for accommodating my growing belly! I’m looking forward to wearing this dress with cosy cardigans and warm, mustard-coloured tights during the winter. I was waiting for a fun occasion to wear it, and our friends’ daughter’s naming ceremony seemed just the party. Luckily, we had a last spell of warm weather while in London, and found a couple of fancy walls to act as a backdrop for some photos.

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Sunglasses: Shevamps on Etsy
Dress: Nadinoo
Tights: American Apparel
Shoes: Swedish Hasbeens

As you can see, I’m not showing at all yet really. I was 15 weeks pregnant in these pictures, just over a week ago, and I have a feeling that it’s going to be a little while before my bump decides to make itself known to the world! In the meantime, I’m enjoying being able to wear (most of) my normal wardrobe. I’m not a huge fan of most of the maternity stuff out there, but have bought a few new items to help me out a bit – maternity jeans (I love you eBay!), a couple of stretch knit skirts, and my new oversized winter coat should come in very handy for keeping my growing bump warm over Christmas. Other than that, I’m going to try and make the most of my large collection of skirts and smock dresses. I’m going to see if I can be creative with my maternity wear – and will of course be posting the results on here!

As for our little baby, who appears to be a wriggler, all is well. We heard the heartbeat last week, and I’m counting down the days to my next scan (Halloween!), when hopefully we’ll be able to find out the gender of our little one (wolfman or witch?). I must admit that Jim and I haven’t been able to resist buying a few cute unisex items, and there is so much lovely baby stuff out there that I simply don’t think I can wait until the birth to reveal the sex of our little wriggler.

My pregnancy so far has been fairly easy-going, I’ve only had some mild nausea which is thankfully long gone now, although I was recently warned about bad headaches. I had one last week and…woah mama. But all in all, we are happy, excited, and pram-shopping around these parts! Welcome to my new maternity wear series. I’m excited to share this lovely journey with you.

Autumn vibes

Another Autumn-y recipe today, in the form of a spiced apple cake which to me optimises everything lovely about the changing seasons from Summer to Autumn. It’s rich, warming but not too heavy and filling – maybe later into the cool seasons you could add raisins and brandy to spice things up a bit. But for now, this is a great cake to welcome those Autumn vibes and use up some apples falling from the trees. A friend suggested using pears, which I think is a great idea!

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The recipe comes from Cakes: River Cottage Handbook No.8, which is a great book (as you might expect from the River Cottage crew), full of homely Autumn recipes from flapjacks to jammy dodgers, florentines to Bonfire night parkin, toffee apple cake to Somerset cider cake, and even biscuits for dogs! I’ve made this apple cake several times, and it never fails to impress. Delicious straight from the oven with a coffee in the afternoon, it perfectly sums up Autumn to me.

The other great thing about this cake (besides being delicious) is that it’s very quick to make, if you don’t peel your apples. I tend not to, but the book advises that if your apples are older or waxy-skinned they are best peeled. I like to bake this cake in a round bundt tin, echoing the holes in the middle of the apple slices on top. The recipe uses nutmeg and cloves, but I usually switch these out for cinnamon and ginger, because I prefer them. Experiment with whichever warming spices you like! And enjoy: Autumn has arrived.

Apple cake
from Cakes: River Cottage Handbook No.8

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Ingredients:
For the cake:
125g self-raising white flour
125g self-raising wholemeal flour (I usually just use what I have to hand)
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp cinnamon and ½ tsp ginger, or whichever spices you prefer
125g butter, cut into small pieces
125g soft brown sugar
350g cored apple (prepared weight)
1 egg, beaten
50ml milk

For the topping:
1 small eating apple (ideally red-skinned, cored but not peeled)
1 tbsp caster sugar

- Preheat the oven to 180℃/gas mark 4 and grease and line a loose-bottomed round or bundt cake tin. Sift the flours, bicarbonate of soda and spices into a large bowl and mix well together. Add the butter and, using your fingertips, rub it into the flour until the mixture resembles medium breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar.

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- Cut the apples into 1cm dice and toss lightly in the rubbed-in mixture until evenly distributed. Add the egg and milk and bring the mix together with a wooden spoon to a sticky, lumpy dough. Spoon into the prepared cake tin and level with the back of the spoon.

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- For the topping, cut the apple across into 7 or 8 slices and poke out any residual pips. Lay the slices on top of the cake. Sprinkle the caster sugar evenly over the mixture and apples – this will give the cake a lovely crisp topping when baked.

- Bake for 45-50 minutes until the top is golden brown, firm and crispy to the touch. Leave in the tin for 20-30 minutes before turning out. The cake will keep for 2-3 days in an airtight tin in a cool place.

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A bit of news…

Roswell

Very excited to share the news that Jim and I are expecting a baby! Mini Ashworth is due in March 2015 and we’ve already begun planning, organising and (for me) knitting. I’m excited about growing big during the cooler months and will be sharing some outfit posts in this space. Life is about to change a whole lot and I’m looking forward to sharing our adventure here on this little blog!

Anna Bond for Puffin in Bloom

My obsession with flowers is well documented on this ol’ blog, so it’s no surprise that I’m a big fan of Anna Bond, founder of hugely popular Rifle Paper Co. Her beautiful paintings can be found adorning everything from calendars to greetings card, notebooks to phone cases, and even wallpaper! Anna’s instagram feed is a delight, full of dreamy snaps of her daily life and floral paintings.

But something particularly lovely recently caught my eye – Anna’s designs for covers of four classic children’s books, which are being re-issued by Puffin over the next few months as part of their ‘In Bloom’ collection. Aren’t they just stunning!? I love the colour palettes, the hints of gold and the little O-mouthed characters. Working in a library, I’m still a big fan of reading a story in a book rather than on a digital screen, so these have gone straight onto my wishlist for Christmas. I sincerely hope Anna has more treats like this up her sleeve!

If you haven’t visited the Rifle Paper Co. website before, I’d highly recommend popping over there for a browse (I have my eye on a floral 2015 calendar). But maybe leave your credit card in the other room…

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Lately: a trip to Nadinoo

A few weeks ago, over my birthday weekend, Jim and I went to Manchester for the day for some shopping, browsing and afternoon tea. I always love visiting my old home, seeing what’s changed and what’s new. Anyway, this time I had an ulterior motive for wanting to visit Manchester, and specifically, Manchester Craft and Design Centre. Tucked away in the heart of the Northern Quarter, the centre houses 30 artists and makers across two floors, all selling their handmade wares. There’s a huge variety of goods for sale, from jewellery to baby clothes to prints to paintings to toys, as well as a friendly café downstairs.

Back in April a new resident moved in to the design centre, with a studio I was very eager to visit. I’ve been a fan of Nadia Izruna for years, since she launched her beautiful handmade clothing label Nadinoo in 2009. Nadia has a real knack for design, and for choosing beautiful fabrics to compliment her collections of dresses, blouses and two-piece sets. In fact, Nadia was the person who introduced me to Liberty fabrics, in particular the Claire Aude fabric which later became the inspiration for the colour scheme for our wedding!

So when I found out that Nadia had opened a studio, I knew I had to see her beautiful pieces in person – and perhaps buy myself a birthday gift, of course! Meeting Nadia was a real treat after following her adventures for so long online. She was welcoming and friendly, and we had a lovely chat. I rummaged through the rails, tried dresses on and grinned with delight at Nadia’s pint-sized children’s collection. And I did treat myself to a birthday present; a custom-made Nadinoo dress, which arrived last week and is perfect for Autumn adventures. I’ll save that for another blog post…in the meantime, I hope you enjoy my photos of Nadia’s lovely workspace.

Unfortunately, Nadinoo’s studio doors will be closing for the last time on 15th September – so if you’re in the Manchester area, hot-foot it over there! I have no doubt that Nadia has many more exciting projects up her sleeve, including a children’s collection for Spring/Summer 2015, which I had the pleasure of viewing and which is THE CUTEST. In the meantime, you can follow Nadia’s adventures on her blog and shop her lovely clothes online. Stay tuned, more great things are coming from the Nadinoo camp.

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Damson season

Things have been pretty quiet on the blog baking-wise lately. But I’ve been trying my hand at some new recipes, including spanakopita (delicious), chocolate eclairs (deflated) and strawberry cheesecake (GNAM). Today I’d like to share a recipe I’d been wanting to try out for a while, only it felt too…well, Autumny. Signe Johansen’s lovely book Scandilicious Baking is packed full of beautiful and tempting treats; I’ve written about it before, here. Pastry and dough-making pops up a lot in the book, which may sound time-consuming, but the results are well worth it. And this week I attempted, for the first time, jam pinwheels.

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First off, to explain my reasons behind baking such an Autumnal treat when we’re still in sunny August: although I was a Summer baby, my favourite season is Autumn. Perhaps it’s because UK Summers are always so half-hearted nowadays, but by this time of year I’m always craving Autumn, anxious for it to arrive. Although other people hate the early dark nights, there’s something I love about leaving work in the dark, wrapped up in layers and walking home to find the fire lit and delicious smells filling the kitchen. I love fireworks, bonfire night, and Halloween, and the promise of Christmas just around the corner. I love the warm, comforting smells of Autumn, the layers, coats and colourful knitwear. I have a coral pink wool coat that I bought over the Summer and am itching to wear. I know I may sound a bit mad wishing the Summer away, but at this time of year, when the weather is gradually turning, I feel ready for crunchy leaves, hot chocolate and roast dinners. I prefer tights to bare legs (mine are perpetually white), I love warm fairisle jumpers and woollen miniskirts and layering. I really am an Autumn girl at heart.

Sorry if I’m bringing you down, but think about the other upside to Autumn: the baking. I baked this cake last week and am feeling ready for another delicious dark batch of this. I’ve had enough of pavlovas and strawberries. The apples and damsons are ripening in our garden and I’m feeling the urge to bake crumbles and pies, desserts to eat warm with ice cream and a cup of tea.

So to pay homage to my favourite season a little early, here’s the recipe for Signe’s jam star Danish pastries – or, pinwheel pastries. This recipe does take a bit of preparation; you have to make the dough the night before baking the pastries. But if you have the time (and take your time), the results are definitely worth it. Next time I think I’ll make a large batch and freeze it for when I have the pastry itch. You can use any jam you like, and as the photograph in the book shows, these pastries look especially pretty with different-coloured toppings. I used damson jam, however, as we had a large jar in the fridge, made by Jim using fruit from our damson trees.

I made these pastries for my pals at knitting club, and they went down very well. I will roll the dough a bit thinner next time, though, as my pinwheels turned out a bit, well, beastly! I’m really pleased I took the time to make these sweet pastries, and will definitely be making them an Autumn staple in my baking repertoire. After all, it is nearly damson season.

Jam star Danish pastries
recipe from Scandilicious Baking by Signe Johansen
Makes 12-15

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Ingredients:

for the Danish pastry – prepared the day before baking the pinwheels
250-300ml whole milk
500g strong white flour
10g fine sea salt
2 tbsp caster sugar
2 tsp freshly ground cardamom
15g fresh yeast or 7g fast action dried yeast
1 medium egg, beaten
250g unsalted butter, chilled

- Scald 250ml of the milk by heating it in a small pan until almost boiling and then allow it to cool. Scalding the milk makes the finished pastry softer.

- Sift the flour, salt, sugar and cardamom together in a large bowl, sprinkle in the dried yeast (if using) and stir through. If using fresh yeast, cream it with a teaspoon of the sugar in a small bowl and once it is liquid (after about 30 seconds) add to the dry ingredients.

- Make a well in the middle, add the beaten egg and then the milk mixture, which should be warm rather than hot to the touch, as otherwise you risk killing the yeast. Stir everything together until the mixture comes off the sides of the bowl, adding as much of the remaining milk as you feel is needed until the dough looks – for want of a better word – doughy. Shape into a rough rectangle shape, cover with lightly oiled clingfilm and refrigerate overnight.

- Take the dough out of the fridge and allow to come to room temperature (30-60 minutes depending on how cold your fridge is). Use a cheese slicer or a very sharp knife to cut 250g chilled butter into thin slices. Lightly flour the surface you’re going to roll the dough on and the dough itself. Roll out to a rectangle about 45cm x 15cm and roughly 1cm thick. Starting at one end of the pastry rectangle, place the butter slices across two-thirds the pastry, leaving a border of a couple of centimetres around the edges. Make sure the butter is evenly distributed and that there are no large lumps sticking out.

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- Fold the unbuttered pastry third over to sit on top of half of the buttered pastry, and then fold the remaining buttered third on the top of that, so that you end up with a rectangle of pastry a third of the size but three times as thick as when you started. Turn the pastry 90° and roll out again to a rectangle about 1cm thick. Fold in thirds lengthways again, cover with clingfilm and refrigerate for one hour.

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- Remove from the fridge, place on a lightly floured surface and roll into a long rectangle (roughly 50cm x 10-15cm) when it again should be about 1cm thick. This time fold both the shorter ends in so they meet in the middle and then fold of half on top of the other, as if you’re closing a book. Turn the pastry 90° and roll out again into a rectangle about 1cm thick. Fold in thirds lengthways one last time, cover with clingfilm and leave to chill for another hour or so before using to make Danish pinwheels.

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for the pastries
1 batch of Danish pastry (as above)
12-15 tbsp jam
1 medium egg, beaten

- Lightly oil a large baking sheet or line with parchment paper. Roll out the chilled Danish pastry on a lightly floured surface until it forms a rectangle about 30cm x 40-50cm. Slice into 12-15 equal squares of pastry, until 10cm x 10cm each, and place about 3-4cm apart on the baking sheet.

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- Use a sharp knife to split each corner of the squares by cutting a couple of centimetres in from the tip towards the centre, leaving the middle of each pastry square uncut (to make room for the jam).

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- Dollop a tablespoon of jam on the centre of each square. Lift one side (left or right, whichever you prefer) of one of the split corners of the pastry square and fold it in towards the middle, pressing gently in to the jam so that it stays put. Repeat with the same side of each of the remaining split corners, pressing the pastry tips together in the middle, to create a pinwheel star shape. Brush the exposed pastry surfaces with beaten egg (dabbing a little on the points where they meet in the middle to stick them together), cover and leave to prove in a warm place for 20 minutes. While they are proving, preheat the oven to 220°C/200°C fan/gas mark 7.

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- Bake on the upper shelf of the oven for 5 minutes before reducing the heat to 190°C/170°C/gas mark 5 for a further 3-5 minutes or until the pastries look golden brown and feel crispy and firm to the touch.

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- Leave to cool slightly on a wire rack, sift icing sugar over the top for a pretty touch and eat while still warm (but not immediately out of the oven, as the jam gets very hot).

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