Muffin time

I’m not a big savoury baker, but now and then I do like to dabble. While looking through the latest book from The Great British Bake Off series, one savoury recipe jumped straight out at me: red pepper and goats’ cheese muffins. These muffins are really quick and easy to make, freeze very well and are a great canvas for experimenting with flavours. The book suggests replacing the goats’ cheese with feta, and I’m sure courgette instead of red pepper wouldn’t go amiss. We had some pesto to use up, so I added that too, which gave my muffins a lovely basil-y tang. I’m now on a bit of a savoury kick, and in true Autumn fashion, am looking forward to making these pumpkin and rosemary treats next. Yums.

These muffins are great as an alternative to bread, perfect with soup, as part of a picnic, or with a bowl of warming noodles. They are also the ideal cheeky afternoon (or breakfast, or evening) snack. In the way of savoury baking, these muffins were an excellent introduction. Sweet potato pasties are also on my Autumn menu. Although I’ll always have a sweet tooth, I am definitely up for making room in my baking repertoire for savoury. Especially when goats’ cheese is involved.

Pesto, Red Pepper and Goats’ Cheese Muffins
adapted from Great British Bake Off: Everyday: Over 100 Foolproof Bakes

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Makes 12

Ingredients:
100g goats’ cheese
1 medium red pepper, cored and cut into 1cm chunks
300g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
salt and pepper, to taste
3 generous teaspoons green pesto
225ml buttermilk (I never buy buttermilk, just add lemon juice to milk…done!)
1 medium egg
100ml extra virgin olive oil

– Preheat the oven to 190°C/Gas mark 5 and line a 12-hole muffin tray with paper muffin cases, or squares of baking parchment for the rustic look. Cut or crumble the goats’ cheese into pieces about the same size as the red pepper chunks.

– Sift the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda into a mixing bowl. Add the red pepper and cheese and gently stir into the dry ingredients using a wooden spoon.

– Lightly beat the buttermilk with the egg and olive oil in a measuring jug, just to mix, and stir in the pesto. Season with the salt and pepper. Pour the mixture into the mixing bowl, and mix everything together with the wooden spoon until just combined – there’s no need to beat the mixture. Spoon into the muffin cases, making sure they are evenly filled.

– Place the muffin tray into the preheated oven and bake for 25-30 minutes until the muffins are golden brown and feel just firm when pressed in the centre. Leave the muffins to cool in the tray for a couple of minutes, then lift out and DEVOUR. Best eaten warm or at room temperature the same or the next day. To revitalise the muffins once cold, put them in a warm oven for 5 minutes. Instant deliciousness.

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Autumn warmth

Yep, Autumn’s truly here. It’s raining outside, red and orange leaves litter the pavements and putting the heating on has become a daily habit. Since the weather has turned, so has my baking. I’ve been marking pages from The Hairy Bikers’ Perfect Pies, and have many an Autumn recipe lined up (apple cake with rum buttercream, cinnamon bun-cake, lemon sponge pudding, carrot soup…). But today I’m going to share an amended version of the classic apple crumble, recipe courtesy of the River Cottage Everyday cookbook by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

We are lucky enough to have two apple trees and four damson trees in our garden. So this time of year we’re usually infested with fruit. A few weeks ago, when they were ready to drop, we went outside and gathered in as many damsons as we could reach. We had so many! We gave some away, froze more and the rest got turned into Jim Jam (a simple jam made by Jim). We had so much of this jam that we thought it would go well with our apples inside a warming, crumbly pie. So we followed Hugh’s recipe for apple and walnut crumble, with a couple of alterations. And it was really good. Tart with the apples, tangy sweetness with the damsons, and adding the walnuts to the crumble topping gives it a deep, warm flavour with some added crunch.

Better yet, this simple crumble is ripe for experimentation. We simply added jam, but you could swap the walnuts for different chopped nuts, such as pecans. You can also use whatever fruit you like – Hugh suggests winter rhubarb, summer gooseberries or plums, or autumnal blackberries, pears and quince. Or simply add your favourite frozen fruit. The perfect dessert for a rainy Autumn evening. Which we seem to be having a lot of lately, so you’ve no excuse not to create your own version of this lovely warming crumble. The possibilities are, quite happily, endless.

Apple, damson and walnut crumble
adapted from River Cottage Everyday by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

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Serves 8

Ingredients:
1.25kg apples, peeled, cored and finely sliced
5 generous tablespoons damson jam (or other jam of your choice)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
caster sugar (optional, to taste)

For the crumble:
100g walnuts
225g plain flour
200g cold butter, cut into cubes
150g light brown sugar
75g medium oatmeal
75g ground almonds (optional)

– Scatter the walnuts on a baking tray and toast in an oven preheated to 180°C/Gas mark 4 for 5-7 minutes, giving them a shake halfway through, until just beginning to colour and develop aroma. Leave to cool, then chop roughly.

– To prepare the crumble, sift the flour into a bowl (or food processor). Add the butter and rub in with your fingers (or pulse briefly in the processor) until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the walnuts, sugar and ground almonds, if using. Squeeze a few handfuls of crumble in your fist to create lumps – it’s sometimes nicer to have a ‘rocky’ crumble than a fine, even textured one.

– Put the sliced apples in a large bowl and add the jam, mixing it in thoroughly. Add sugar to taste depending on the tartness of the jam/apples, and add the cinnamon. Spread into a pie or ovenproof dish, getting the fruit as compact as you can.

– Scatter the crumble over the apple mixture in a fairly even layer and bake for 40-45 minutes, until browned on top and the fruit is bubbling up at the sides of the dish. Serve hot, with cream or, like we did, with homemade custard.

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In bloom

Continuing with my flower obsession, I thought I would share another craft project from back in the Spring, when I was on the hunt for inspiration for our floral wedding theme. After seeing the wonderful Thumbelina-themed wedding of Brittany Watson Jepsen, wonderful artist and fellow flower lover, I really began to get excited about paper flowers. I had never thought about making GIANT ONES!

I decided to have a go at making my own huge poppy, and happily I discovered that Brittany had shared her tutorial over on the wedding blog 100 Layer Cake. So I bought the card and set to work, not quite realising just how much manpower was needed to cut out all those big petals and leaves. It was a bit of a slog, but I loved the end result, and then took my new flower friend for a walk around the garden…

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There are soooooo many paper flower tutorials and ideas of how to use them around the internet, but here are just a few of my favourites:

– Brittany’s round-up of her own paper flower inspiration

– Oh Happy Day is one of my favourite websites ever. They always have a wealth of fun flower-based DIYs

– I love the colour and look of these gorgeous anemones by Lia Griffith, especially lined up in a row

Paper flower rings (!) by Brittany

– These delicate crepe paper flowers look delightful in a vase

A different spin on the tissue paper pom pom craze from Elsie of A Beautiful Mess. I love how these look all hanging down together!

Freaking flower party blowers! Another Oh Happy Day triumph

I have a few other ideas up my sleeve for wedding decor, including many a project from this beautiful book, which arrived a couple of weeks ago. I’ve only dipped in and out of it so far, but just give me a free afternoon, a cup of tea and some post-its and a book review will be on its way. Believe me when I say that this book is something really special in the world of paper flowers…