Speculoos (Biscoff) milk with almond crumbs

The rain hasn’t stopped all week. And the icy wind seems to cut its way through every piece of clothing I wear in an attempt to stay warm. It’s the sort of day where you want to sit on the sofa, wrapped in a blanket holding a cup of something warm. Perhaps it’s a fruity tea or maybe you’ve opted for a hot chocolate. But consider this: cookies and milk in a cup. Yes, it is real and it is Yum (with a capital Y)!

Get yourself some speculoos (Biscoff cookies) or some gingerbread cookies. Get yourself some milk. Put the two together in a saucepan and heat it all up. Simple as that.

If you want to make it extra special, add some almond crumbs. Sit, sip and forget the greyness outside your window.

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Speculoos milk with almond crumbs

(Serves 2)

5-6 speculoos cookies

500ml (or 2 cups) of milk

optional:

2 tbsp ground almonds

1 tbsp dark brown sugar

Put the milk in a saucepan. Break the cookies in 2 and add to the milk.

Heat on medium heat and stir.

Don’t let the milk boil.

When all the cookies are dissolved and the milk is warm, pour into 2 cups (you can use a sieve to get rid of any last bits of cookie crumb).

Top with almond crumbs.

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Almond crumbs:

Put the ground almonds and brown sugar in a pan on medium heat.

Keep staring until the sugar melts and the ground almonds start to stick together in large crumbs.

Take off the heat and spread on a piece of baking paper to cool.

Sprinkle on top of speculoos milk.

Enjoy!

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Baking with Kids: Cupcakes

It’s been one of those weeks where I can’t seem to get organised. There are a million things I need to do but there are definitely not a million hours in the day… or week… or month. I like making lists and I did have one for this first week back to work after the new year, but for some reason nothing on that list got done.

I was also home alone with the kids for 4 days because P. (my pilot-husband-to-be) was in London for work. Which means there is very little, if no time at all to get anything done apart from maybe moving one stack of washing from the kitchen to the bedroom (to be placed on the bed of course, not in the wardrobe).

But it was a good week in other ways. I took my 3 year old daughter to the Alte Gemäldegalerie here in Berlin for an exhibition especially for kids. I loved how the old paintings fascinated her. And my nearly 2 year old son started pointing towards my bowls and shouting “bake!”. So we did.

Check out my tips on baking with kids here.

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I used my mother’s apple cake recipe to make these but reduced the amount of sugar and left out the apples.

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Two days later I still had sprinkles stuck to my socks.

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Baking with kids – Cupcakes

(makes 6-8 cupcakes)

100g butter, softened

100g plain flour or self raising flour

1 tbsp baking powder (leave out if using self raising flour)

60g sugar

2 eggs

Sprinkles, chopped up m&m’s, small sweets, etc.

125g icing sugar

several tbsp powdered sugar

Method:

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C (older kids can do this themselves).

Put cupcake cases in a muffin tray (even little hands can do this).

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy using a handheld mixer. Add the eggs and continue mixing (Depending on their ages, kids can either watch, help hold the mixer or mix themselves).

Using a wooden spoon, add the flour and baking powder/self raising flour and mix until you have a smooth batter (be sure to mix it yourself one last time to make sure everything is well incorporated).

Fill the cupcake cases 3/4 full (this can get messy but that’s part of the process. Smaller kids might have trouble getting the aim right so they might need some help).

Put the tray in the oven and bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean (older kids can, under parent supervision, try doing this themselves).

Leave to cool on a wire rack. You can put the in the fridge for 10 minutes to speed up the process. In the mean time, make the icing and get the sprinkles, sweets, etc. ready in small bowls.

To make the icing, sift the powdered sugar in a bowl and add a tbsp of water at a time. Mix by hand or with a handheld mixer and check the consistency. Keep adding water if it is too thick. Add some more powdered sugar if it is too runny (again, depending on their ages, kids can either watch, help hold the mixer or mix themselves).

Decorate!

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Enjoy!

Be sure to always supervise you kids when baking. 

(Baking with kids is a spontaneous affair. My photo’s reflect that.)

 

Pear with speculoos (Biscoff cookie) crumble

Happy 2015!

So, who has a new year’s resolution? More specifically, who has a new year’s resolution that revolves around food? I do. My new year’s resolution is to BAKE MORE 😉

I spent Christmas with my family in Belgium and brought back lots of Belgian goodies that I showed you in this post. On our last day, we went to the seaside and visited my grandmother’s childhood home. She was a marvellous woman my grandmother, and sometimes the only one who really understood me. We used to visit her and my grandfather every Sunday and she would make meatloaf and pears stewed in brown sugar. An absolutely beautiful combination.

This dish is inspired by my grandmother’s pears and by my Belgian roots. Introducing: Pear with speculoos (or biscoff cookies as they are called in some countries) crumble.

IMG_2858This is a lovely, sweet dessert that can be put together in the space of 30 minutes. Baking it takes about the same amount of time.

IMG_2808I would like to talk about brown sugar for a minute . In Belgium and in the UK where I used to live,brown sugars are available in every supermarket. In Germany, which is my current home, I struggle to find them. They come in several shades depending on the amount of molasses. They are soft and not grainy at all (unlike the brown coloured unrefined sugars which are grainy). In this recipe I have used both light and dark brown sugar which I “imported” from Belgium.

IMG_2812Making the crumble is easy and quick. Just use your hand to rub it all together and remember to use cold butter.

IMG_2846My crumble came out a little darker than I wanted. I recently bought an oven thermometer and have tried baking according to its indications… I think I need to send it back… Yours will no doubt come out nice and golden!

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Recipe for 6

6 pears

50-75g dark brown sugar (depending on how sweet your pears are)

for the crumble:

100g light brown sugar

100g plain flour

50g speculoos/biscoff cookies (or any other crunchy ginger or cinnamon cookie)

100g cold butter cut into cubes

Method

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.

Butter an ovenproof dish.

Peel the pears, core them and cut them into cubes.

Add the dark brown sugar and mix until all the pear cubes are coated.

Put the mixture in the ovenproof dish and set aside.

Crush the cookies by putting them in a plastic freezer bag and bashing them with a rolling pin or the back of a wooden spoon. Small chunks amongst the crumbs are OK.

In a bowl, add the cookie crumbs, the light brown sugar, flour and butter. Use your finger tips to rub it all together until it resembles breadcrumbs. Again, some bigger chunks are OK.

Sprinkle the crumble mixture over the pears.

Bake in the oven for 25 minutes or until the crumble is a golden brown colour.

Leave it to cool for a couple of minutes before serving.

Enjoy!

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Sugar cookies plain and simple

Good morning. And merry Christmas! If like me, you celebrated Christmas Eve last night, you will probably be looking to taking it easy today. Maybe you’re planning to go out for a long walk in the countryside. Or maybe you want to stay in your pyjamas all day and watch Love Actually 3 times in a row.

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If you’re celebrating today, I bet you’re already in the kitchen checking oven temperatures and making a mental inventory of how many bottles of red and white wine you have. Maybe, you’re going to have to make a last minute trip to the supermarket because you forgot to buy milk (it can happen).

Not everyone celebrates Christmas. Today could be just like any other day. But, whatever it is you are planning to do today, it is always a good day to bake. So let’s talk sugar cookies.

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Sugar cookies and easy and quick to make. Adding some festive decorations makes them perfect for a last minute addition to your Christmas coffee. Or tie a red bow around a stack of these lovelies and give it someone as a gift.

 

Have a lovely Christmas today.

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Recipe

(makes about 20 cookies)

250g flour

100g sugar

100g butter, softened

1 egg

8g/1tbsp vanilla sugar

Method

Use a standmixer or a handmixer to cream the sugar, vanilla sugar and butter together until the mixture is creamy and fluffy.

Add the egg and keep mixing until completely incorporated.

Add the flour and mix until the dough forms a smooth ball.

Flatten the ball slightly, wrap in clingfilm and cool in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.

Take the dough out of the fridge. Flour your work surface and rolling pin. Roll out the dough to about 1/2cm thick. Cut out any shapes you like.

Place the cookies on a lined baking tray. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until they start to turn golden.

Let the cookies cool on a wire rack.

Enjoy!

Driving home for Christmas…

Who’s traveling to see family this Christmas?

Who’s got suitcases packed full of presents and is worried the guy at check-in is going to spot that you are 10 kg over the weight limit? Who’s hopping on the train and has the challenge of making at least 3 connections, one being just a mere 10 minutes? And who’s got the car filled with lots of thick winter clothes, toys and books, a double buggy and a bag full of tricks to keep 2 toddlers happy? That last one, that’s me. Between our home in Berlin and my parents’ home in Belgium, there’s around 825 km. Most of it is German Autobahn (good road, lots of space, no speed limit in a lot of places… basically a driver’s dream) so things go quickly and smoothly.

It’s always nice to come back to Bruges. It is one of the most beautiful towns you’ll ever see. Especially around Christmas. Have you seen BBC series “The White Queen”? Most of it was filmed here. This is what it looks like in the evening a week before Christmas.

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One of the first things I do when I am in Belgium is to go to the supermarket and stock up on things that are unavailable or more pricey in Germany. On my list:

– Lotus Speculoos

– Speculoos pasta (also called Biscoff or Cookie Butter in other countries)

– Cote d’Or chocolate

– Luikse siroop (apple and pear spread)

– Brown sugar (practically unavailable in Berlin)

– Kandijsiroop (syrup made from rock sugar)

– and beer…

So most of it is baking based. Yes, even the beer can be used in baking :-)

What do you bring home from visits to families or friends far far away?

Belgian GoodiesHere’s a small selection of Belgian goodies, including Belgian rain in the background (happens a lot here…).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Klaaskoeken – Flemish Christmas buns

It’s December which means it’s time for all sorts of festive activities. We started with celebrating the first Sunday of advent with Saffranslängd. Lots of golden goodness in this saffron bread. Then it was time to join our kids in their annual kindergarten lantern procession in honour of St. Martin. Then it was time for a visit from Saint Nicolas or Sinterklaas as we call him in Belgium. His visit happens at night, just like Father Christmas, and he leaves presents, chocolate, clementines and speculoos (something I want to bake with you later). As children, my brothers and I would also eat Klaaskoeken for breakfast on this day. Its a sweet yeast bun that is traditionally eaten with a good layer of butter in top.

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They are not difficult to make but like any yeast dough you need to leave enough time for it to rest and grow. They also freeze really well so you don’t have to eat them all at once… Ours were gone within 48 hours.

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We will be continuing the festivities tonight by celebrating St. Lucia with other Swedish families (as P. is Swedish we honour their traditions for our kids). But for now, have a go at these very Flemish, sweet little bread men.

 

Ingredients

500g flour

42g fresh yeast

50g butter, softened

50g sugar

1 egg

7g salt

pinch of cardamom or cinnamon

100ml lukewarm water

100ml lukewarm milk

an extra egg for glazing the buns

Method

Crumble the yeast into the water and stir to dissolve. Let it rest for 10 minutes.

If you are using a standmixer, attach the dough hook. In the bowl, add the flower, salt, egg, sugar, milk cardamon or cinnamon, butter and the yeast in water mixture. Let the machine knead the dough for 10 minutes.

If you are using your hands, put the flour in a bowl and make a hole in the middle (so it kind of looks like a volcano with a huge crater). Sprinkle the salt on the rim of your flour hole and in the centre of the hole, add the yeast in water mixture. Now add the egg, sugar, milk, cardamom or cinnamon, and butter. Knead for about 20 minutes.

Put the dough in a bowl and cover with plastic or a clean, damp tea towel. Let it rise for about 45 minutes or until it has doubled in size.

Knead the dough again but only for a minute. Cover again and let it rise again for 45 minutes or until it has doubled in size.

Dust your work surface with some flour. Roll out the dough until about 1 cm thick. Use a large cookie cutter to cut out little men or shape them into balls. Put them on a line baking tray about 5-10 cm apart. Cover and let them rise for another 15 minutes.

In the meantime, preheat your oven to 220 degrees C.

Lightly beat the egg for glazing and brush the tops of the buns.

Bake golden brown in 15 minutes.

Cool on a rack and eat with a good layer of butter.

The amount of buns you get really depends on the size of your cutter. I got 25 and baked them in 2 batches.

Enjoy!

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Easiest Hot Chocolate

I don’t know what it’s like where you are, but here in Berlin it’s been freezing cold these last couple of days. I find myself walking and cycling faster than usual in an attempt to warm up quickly. The down side to this is that when I do get to where I’m going, the sweat is running down my back and I find myself shivering in damp clothes.  What helps in situations like these is wrapping ones hands around a hot cup of coffee or tea (whichever I can lay my hands on the quickest) in an attempt to regain some warmth in ones body.

Of course, hot chocolate will also do the trick. So here’s my recipe for the easiest hot chocolate ever.

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Get yourself a cup of milk. Any milk. I chose vanilla flavoured soy milk. Then heat it up in the microwave (or use a saucepan) until it’s really hot but not boiling. Whilst you wait, get out the chocolate. Technically, you could use any chocolate but there are two things to consider:

– Make sure it’s good quality chocolate. This doesn’t mean it has to be expensive. You’re looking for a chocolate that doesn’t have a very long list of ingredients. Something that is rather on the purer side.

– Make sure that it’s meltable (is that even a word?). If your chocolate is filled to the brim with add-ons, you might find your hot chocolate less chocolaty and more lumpy with bits of nuts or candy.

Chop up the chocolate, add it to your hot milk and stir. Watch the transformation, it’s beautiful.

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And that’s it. The only winter warming tool you’ll ever need.

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Recipe

(serves 1)

1 Cup of milk (any kind you like)

approx. 25g chocolate

Method

Heat the milk in the microwave or a saucepan until hot but not boiling

Meanwhile, chop the chocolate in small pieces

Add the chocolate to the hot milk and stir until all the chocolate is melted

Enjoy!

Saffranslängd

Happy Advent!

Today is the 1st of December and today two things happen.  The first one its that we are now officially on the countdown to Christmas. In just over 4 weeks from now, we will be celebrating with my family in Belgium. In the 7 years P. and I have been together, this is the first time we will be enjoying the festive season in my hometown of Bruges. I’m beyond excitement.

The second thing happening today is that P.’s parents are flying in for a 5 day visit. P. is from Sweden but during winter time, his mother and father live in sunny Spain. I hope the cold we are experiencing in Berlin right now will not be too bad for them.

So, put advent, Sweden and Spain together and you get saffranslängd. Let me explain. In Sweden, during advent, they celebrate St. Lucia. And during these celebrations, they eat saffron buns called Lussekatter. Saffron isn’t cheap, it’s like gold, you pay quite a bit of money for a tiny bit of the little red strands. But since Swedes use it in so many more things than saffron buns, it’s reasonably priced. Here in Germany, not so much the case. So we are very lucky that my in-laws are bringing some from Spain today (where they also use it in quite a lot of dishes).

Let’s make a Swedish saffron bread called saffranslängd!

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This is a bit of a project as it takes time but it is totally worth it! And most of that time is the dough resting so you can do something else while you wait. Have a coffee, read a magazine or make Lego structures with your kids.

IMG_2242The key ingredients for this recipe are saffron and fresh yeast. If you can’t get fresh yeast in the supermarket, ask a baker (street corner or even the bakery in the supermarket).  Yeast is great to work with, it makes everything come alive and it has such a lovely unique smell.

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Raisins are for filling the bread. Just to add another bit of sweetness.

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Use a bit of sugar to help crush the saffron with a pestle and mortar.

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Once everything is combined, you need to let it rest. Let it do its thing. Your dough needs to grown a lot, to twice its size.

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Now, shape it into a simple loaf or do what I did. I opted for a roll-cut-pull approach. I’ll explain how I did this in the recipe.

Recipe:

(makes 2 loaves)

40g fresh yeast

1 kg flour

500ml milk

150g butter – melted

120g sugar

1g saffron strands

1 egg

200g raisins

optional: pearl sugar for decoration

Method:

1: Combine the milk and the melted butter together and heat to 37 degrees C. It should feel lukewarm when you put your finger in the mixture, not hot or the yeast will die and your dough will not rise.

2: Meanwhile, put the saffron and a teaspoon of sugar in a pestle and mortar and crush the strands.

3: Divide the mixture into two. In one part, crumble in the yeast and stir until the yeast is dissolved. Add this to the other part of the milk-butter mixture and add the sugar and saffron. Stir until dissolved.

4: Add the flour and kneed for about 10 minutes by hand or 5 minutes in a stand mixer with a dough hook. The dough should form a clean, smooth ball that doesn’t stick.

NOTE: if you are making a simple loaf, add the raisins now with the flour.

5: Put the dough in a bowl and cover with a clean tea towel. Put the bowl in a warm place that is free of draft and let it rise to twice its volume (approx. 30-45 minutes).

NOTE: if you are making a single loaf, preheat your oven to 200 degrees C.

6: Cut into 2 equal parts.

NOTE: if you are making a simple loaf, skip to step 11.

7: Roll out the dough into a rectangle about half a centimetre thick. Then sprinkle over half of the raisins. Roll the dough tight like you would roll a carpet, starting the roll with the long side. Do the same with the second part of dough.

8: Take a sharp knife and cut into the dough every 2,5 cm, starting from the bottom. Cut about 3/4 of the way down, you don’t want to cut all the way through.

9: Take the first “cut” and squeeze the middle of it between your thumb and forefinger. Pull it towards you. Take the next “cut” and pull it to the left. Take the third “cut” and pull it to the right. The fourth “cut” your are again squeezing and pulling towards you, then left and right and repeat until you reach the end. Do the same with your other bread.

10: Put both loaves on a baking sheet and cover with a clean tea towel for about 30 minutes, until they have doubled in volume. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 200 degrees C.

11: Whisk the egg lightly and brush both loaves with the egg wash. Sprinkle on the pearl sugar.

12: Bake in the bottom of the oven for 35 minutes. Keep an eye on your loaves. If they start to brown too quickly, lay some tin foil over them for the rest of the baking time.

Happy Advent!

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Scones two ways

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Scones are the highlight of an english afternoon tea. Fresh out of the oven with that little crack in the middle, making it possible to pull apart in two perfectly identical bits. No knife needed.

Scones can be eaten warm or cold. It’s a personal thing. And they can be eaten just like that. No additions, no distractions. But if you want to jazz it up a bit and eat them like they do in the United Kingdom (think Downton Abbey) then you will need to add some creaminess and some sweetness. Soft butter (preferably the real deal) and strawberry jam. Nothing complicated. Just put a nice layer of both on your scone and indulge. But if you can get your hands on clotted cream then by all means use that instead of butter. Yum!

Flour, baking powder, sugar, butter and milk. That’s all really. A bowl, a wooden spoon, a round cookie cutter or a small glass and your hands. Nothing high tech.

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Use your fingers to rub the butter and the flour together. Make sure you don’t have any lumps, you are looking for a breadcrumb texture.

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Slowly add the milk and use your hands or a wooden spoon on turn it all into a sticky, rather wet dough. Split the dough into 2 bits. One part we will leave as it is and the other part we will add the raisins to.

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Flour your work surface. Don’t be shy, you’ll need quite a bit. Use your hands to flatten the dough and then start cutting it those scones.

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Don’t forget to glaze them so they get that lovely, golden shine. Time to bake! In the mean time, make yourself a cup of tea.

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One plate of scones ready to be eaten.

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Don’t forget the jam. Strawberry is best, but any good jam will do. Be creative (mine is Rhubarb).

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Recipe:

Scones two ways

(recipe adapted from Mary Berry’s Baking Bible)

450g flour and 4 tbsp baking powder

OR

450g self-raising flour

2 rounded tbsp baking powder

75g soft butter

50g sugar

300ml milk plus 2 tbsp for glazing

60g raisins

Method:

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C.

In a bowl, mix the flour and baking powder.

Add the butter and use your fingers to rub the butter and flour together until you have a breadcrumb-like texture.

Add the sugar and mix.

Add the milk in several steps and mix the dough with your hands or a wooden spoon. the dough will be sticky and wet.

Split the dough in to 2 halves. Leave one plain and add the raisins to the other half.

Flour your work surface and shape the dough into a flat circle about 2 cm thick. Use a cookie cutter to a glass to cut out circles. Don’t twist the cutter or glass while cutting.

Put the scones on a baking sheet and glaze with a little milk.

Bake for 12 minutes until golden.

Let cool or eat warm.

(makes about 20 scones depending on the size of the cutter or glass)

My mother’s apple cake

Hi!

Welcome!

How are you?

I’m glad you’re here. Did you bring your apron? Don’t worry if you didn’t, I’ll lend you one. You and I are going to create some amazing things. Sometimes we will achieve perfection and other times frustration will make us yell very loudly at the oven. But we will endeavour and try the best we can.

I think it’s always a good idea to start new things in an easy and simple manner. We can do complicated later when we’ve had chance to get to know each other better. So today, for our first baking project, we will be baking my mother’s apple cake.

The simplicity of this recipe is what makes it appealing. My mother would make this often for when we would come home from school, hungry and tired. She would make it into cupcakes if we had friends over to play on Saturdays. And she still makes it for the coffee break during her watercolour class.

The ingredients are few and simple: eggs, butter, sugar, flour, baking powder, the tiniest bit of salt and apples. If you live in a country where the shops sell self-raising flour, than you can scrap the baking powder and salt leaving you with just 5 ingredients. Few and simple.

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The first thing is to cream the sugar and butter. Use an electric mixer, a stand mixer or a whisk. Just mix,mix, mix. This is one of my favourite processes in baking. Creamy butter and sweet, sweet sugar… I could probably spread this on slice of bread and eat it very, very slowly with a content smile on my face.

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Add the eggs and watch it turn a lovely, warm, orangey yellow. Perfect colour for this time of year. Make sure the eggs are well incorporated into the mixture. Next, throw in the flour, baking powder and salt (or self-raising flour). If you have time you can sift the flour and fold it in. Whatever method you use, the result will be delicious guaranteed.

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Now add those sweet, juicy apples and give it all another couple of stirs with a wooden spoon. That’s it! Preparations done.

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Now for the baking bit. Make sure you have your cake tin ready. Grease it or line it, the choice is yours. I prefer greasing with butter and dusting with flour.  Then fill it 2/3 full, put it in the middle of your oven and patiently wait (what?!?) while your house fills with gorgeously, delicious smells of apples and soft, spongy cake.

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Add coffee because it just makes sense at 3 in the afternoon.

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And try not to eat it all on your own.

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Recipe:

Apple Cake 

200g soft butter

200g caster sugar

200g flour (or self-raising flour)

2 tsp baking powder (eliminate if using self-raising flour)

pinch of salt (eliminate if using self-raising flour)

4 eggs

2 apples

Method:

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C.

Line or grease a cake tin.

Peel, core and cut your apples into cubes.

Cream butter and sugar using a hand mixer/stand mixer/whisk.

Add the eggs one by one mixing well between each egg.

Add the flour to the mixture.

Sir in the apple cubes with a wooden spoon.

Scoop the batter into the greased cake tin and bake in the middle of the oven for 30-45 minutes. Make sure when you insert a toothpick or skewer that it come out clean before you switch off the oven.

Let the cake cool for 5 minute before taking it out of the tin. Let it cool further on a wire rack.