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Birthday Brownies

….or, y’know, a Wednesday. I won’t tell.
Best Ever Chocolate Brownies - The Cardiff Cwtch

Happy Friday! And Happy Birthday to my (not so little) brother, who’s turning 31 tomorrow (…and then it’s my birthday on Sunday, but I’m not going to mention how old I’ll be turning… yeesh). He’s a big fan of the chocolate brownie in all it’s glory and so naturally, I had to bake him some to celebrate. Trouble is, until recently I was yet to find my holy grail brownie recipe. You know, one that’s both basic and brilliant enough to pull out of your sleeve when you need it most (you know, “bring a cake” coffee mornings, bake sales, Wednesdays…) – one that doesn’t require any fancy ingredients, just the stuff that you’ve got stashed in your kitchen cupboard. Slightly crisp around the edges, but deliciously gooey in the middle. Perfecto.

A couple of weeks ago, Sunny came back from work with a rough print out of a chocolate brownie recipe that been pinging around the office via email which claimed to make the best ever brownies. I mean, you can trawl the internet for hours searching through millions of recipes claiming to make the best ever brownies, or sift through cook books – but, the truth is, I’m far more likely to pay attention to recipes on scraps of paper that are passed from person to person. Those kind of recipes are gold dust. And so, I gave it a go one Sunday and by ‘eck, they’re good. And adaptable – which is exactly the kind of basic and brilliant recipe I love. One that I can fiddle around with to my heart’s content; throw in any filling or flavours I fancy, and top with whatever I like – which on this occasion was plenty of extra chocolate, toasted marshmallows, honeycomb and some birthday sprinkles. 🙂

Birthday Brownies - The Cardiff Cwtch

Birthday Brownies

Super chocolaty, and with aaaaaall the trimmings.
Ingredients
  • 200g butter
  • 200g milk dark chocolate
  • 140g plain flour
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 tbsp baking powder
  • 50g chocolate chips
  • 50g marshmallows
  • Honeycomb pieces (I found mine in Tesco)
  • Rainbow sprinkles
Best Ever Chocolate Brownie Recipe - The Cardiff Cwtch
Method
  1. First off, turn on your oven and set it to 180°C, and grease and line a deep baking tin.
  2. Break up your chocolate and pop it into a microwavable mixing bowl, along with the butter. Melt them together in the microwave for about a minute and a half. Stir to combine, and then leave to cool for a couple of minutes.
  3. In another bowl, whisk together the eggs and caster sugar. Slowly pour the egg mix into the melted butter and chocolate mix, stirring as you go.
  4. Sift together the flour and baking powder, and then add to the rest of the mix – stirring until everything is smooth and mixed together.
  5. Pour the mix into the tin, and then bake in the oven for 25 minutes. When it comes out, it should have slight cracks around the edge and might have a bit of a wobble in the middle (…am I describing myself here?) – that’s fine, it’s cooked – it just needs a couple of hours in the tin to cool and set.
  6. Sprinkle with chocolate chips, honeycomb, marshmallow and sprinkles – using a blowtorch to singe the marshmallows.
  7. Store it in a tin, and NOT in the fridge.
Crisp and gooey chocolate chip brownies - The Cardiff Cwtch

Have a great weekend everyone – and happy birthday to my baby brother! 🙂

Cardiff Christmas Shopping Guide 2019

It’s beginning to look a lot like…
Cardiff Christmas Shopping Guide 2019 - The Cardiff Cwtch

Happy Monday!  Halloween and Bonfire Night are done and dusted, Cardiff’s Winter Wonderland opened up last week and Morgan’s Arcade is kitted out like Diagon Alley again, which can only mean one thing.  The C word (…no, not that one – behave, you!).  Dare I say it?  Christmas… is coming.  And before you panic and hurl your phone at me, let me just tell you; I’m nowhere near ready.  I promise.  My tree is still firmly tucked away in its box in the garage, I’ve yet to hear Mariah Carey wailing away over my car radio and it’s waaaaay too soon to go scrolling through the Christmas category on Netflix (for me, anyway…). But, the one Christmassy thing that is in full swing  over on my end is Christmas Shopping.  I mean, I’d love to be that person who has a brainwave in March and starts picking up presents as and when she sees them, but nope, the panic sets in at the end of October and sees me right through until the last present has been ticked off the list.

That being said, I do love shopping for presents – and Christmas Shopping is the one time that I’ll actually head out and do it rather than slob on the sofa and Amazon Prime it – just because, I absolutely adore Cardiff at Christmas time.  I love trotting up and down the high street to the tune of the Salvation Army and I love pottering around in the Arcades for those quirky, one off gifts that I simply can’t find online or elsewhere.  So, once a year I put up a Cardiff Christmas Shopping Guide to shine a light on the amazing shopping Cardiff has to offer, but also the best pit-stops for a coffee (or a gin, let’s be honest) along the way.

This year, my guide’s going live just in time to tell you all about City of Arcades Day – which is happening on Saturday the 16th of November.  There’ll be lots going on in the seven arcades dotted across Cardiff City Centre, including live music and plenty of offers in store. If one of the shops on my list has something special going on, then I’ve jotted it down in red. 🙂

Home & Gifts

Illustrate (Morgan Quarter)

Perfect for: Unique graphic prints, t-shirts and accessories.  My husband and I have a whole zoo-ful of Tobias’ Zentangle Animal Prints on our walls at home! Definitely worth checking out. Check out the online store here.

Oliver Bonas (The Hayes)

Perfect for: I think I’d quite happily set up camp and squat in any Oliver Bonas Store! It’s a trove-full of quirky homeware, books and gifts – but also beautiful fashion and accessories.

Flying Tiger (St Davids)

Perfect for: Quirky stationary and stocking fillers.  Tiger also always has the best (and cheapest!) party supplies and decorations.  When it comes to banners, baking accessories, candles, napkins and nick-nacks, Tiger is the place to go.

Cardiff Christmas Shopping Guide 2019 - The Cardiff Cwtch
Creative Cardiff (The Capitol)

Perfect for: Shop full of products and gifts run by local artists and creatives.

The Joke Shop (Duke Street Arcade)

Perfect for: Fancy Dress Costumes, practical jokes and stocking fillers a plenty.  Perfect if you’re planning on dressing up as Santa, or you’ve got pranks planned around the Christmas dinner table.

Scribbler (Morgan Quarter)

Perfect for: Quirky Christmas cards, Secret Santa gifts and small stocking fillers.

Forbidden Planet (5, Duke Street)

Perfect for: Comic books, cult action figures and collectibles.  If you’ve got a Sheldon Cooper to buy for then you’ll already know about Forbidden Planet and are probably a frequent visitor.

The Pen and Paper (Royal Arcade – Morgan Quarter)

Perfect for: Pens and Paper!  One of the best places in Cardiff to go for ink, card, pens, notebooks, art supplies, calendars and diaries.

*City of Arcades Day: Block Printing Demo with Sarah Walker from 11.30am – 3pm.

Rules of Play (Castle Quarter Arcades)

Perfect for: Christmas isn’t Christmas without some kind of board game, right? Whether you’re a Cards Against Humanity fan or prefer to rinse the relatives at Monopoly then Rules of Play has got you covered.

*City of Arcades Day: 10% Off Modern Classics including Catan and Pandemic.

Castle Emporium (Womanby Street)

Perfect for: Market full of independent retailers selling clothing, jewellery, second hand books, artwork and skateboarding equipment.

Camera Centre UK (Morgan Quarter)

Perfect for: Cameras, Lenses and Equipment for the budding photographer (or blogger) in your family.

*City of Arcades Day: Half price prints, exclusive deals on Sony Alpha cameras and lenses as well as free family portrait photography ALL DAY.

Buddug (Castle Arcade)

Perfect for: Beautiful Welsh themed gifts and jewellery.

*City of Arcades Day: Free Christmas Card and Mince Pie with every purchase.

Galactic Attic (High Street Arcade)

Perfect for: Vintage and retro toys, comic books and collectibles!

*City of Arcades Day: 15% off purchases all day, and a free photo with a Stormtrooper between 12pm to 2pm.

Shop Wales (Queens Arcade)

Perfect for: Welsh-themed gifts.

*City of Arcades Day: Free special edition Wales Toblerone with every purchase over £25.

The Welsh Shop (Castle Quarter Arcades)

Perfect for: Welsh-themed gifts and traditional, hand-crafted Love Spoons.

Beauty & Toiletries

Miss Patisserie (online and in Boots, St Davids)

Perfect for: Handmade Cosmetics, Bath Bombs, Candles. Tucked away in one of the Victorian Arcades (just off St John Street) Miss Patisserie is my go-to if I’ve got a pamper session planned – their bath balls are the bomb-diggity (much slower to fizzle out than, y’know, that *other* highstreet handmade cosmetics brand, and they create beautiful tie-dye swirls in the tub).  All their products are handmade, vegan and cruelty free and downright gorgeous.

Neal’s Yard Remedies (Morgan Quarter)

Perfect for: Natural Remedies; I think you’d be hard pressed to find a Mama who isn’t a big fan of their soothing hand lotions.

*City of Arcades Day: Cuppa and a free 15-minute aromatherapy hand massage with free samples from the frankincense range.

Molton Brown (The Hayes)

Perfect for: Beautiful toiletries and perfumes (My Mum’s a massive fan – I don’t think she’d ever be caught dead with a plain ol’ Carex hand soap in her downstairs loo!).

*City of Arcades Day: Complimentary hand and arm massages, fragrance consultations and a free fragrance sample to take home.

Jo Malone (The Hayes)

Perfect for: Gorgeous high end candles, perfumes and toiletries.

L’Occitane (St Davids)

Perfect for: French toiletries – beautiful soaps, shower gels and hand creams.

Kiehls (St Davids)

Perfect for: Cult skincare products for men and women (I can’t rave more about their Midnight Recovery Oil).

Lush Shop and Spa (Queen Street)

Perfect for: Handmade cosmetics, bath bombs and toiletries. Definitely check out the upstairs spa (such a cosy space!) if you fancy treating your SO to a day of pampering!

Fashion

Most of the big names can be found dotted between Queen Street and The Hayes, with the majority tucked away in St David’s Arcade.

Hobos (High Street Arcade)

Perfect for: One of the oldest shops in Cardiff for vintage and second-hand clothing and accessories.

Shop Rugby (Duke Street)

Perfect for: Rugby Shirts, kits and accessories – as well as a few Welsh and Rugby-themed gifts.

*City of Arcades Day: Spin the wheel, win a prize all day.

Diba (Morgan Quarter)

Perfect for: Clothing and accessories made in Wales using only natural fabrics like silk, cotton, wool and banana leaf!

*City of Arcades Day: 10% off all day.

Jon Ian (Morgan Quarter)

Perfect for: Classic Cardiff Store selling designer shoes and handbags.

*City of Arcades Day: 10% off all day.

Sobeys Vintage (Morgan Quarter)

Perfect for: Vintage clothing and accessories.

*City of Arcades Day: 10% off all day.

White Stuff (The Hayes)

Perfect for: Cosy fashion (and a few homeware and gifts) – the perfect place to find a Christmas Jumper!

*City of Arcades Day: 15% off full price items.

Urban Outfitters (The Hayes)

Perfect for: Quirky fashion with a vintage feel, but their homeware and gift section is where you want to be this time of year…

Kiti Cymru (Pontcanna Mews)

Perfect for: Fashion boutique in Pontcanna with carefully curated fashion from brands such as Lily & Lionel, Tatty Devine and Traffic People.

Dot Clothing (Royal Arcade)

Perfect for: Small, niche designer women’s clothing brands.

*City of Arcades Day: Entry into a free raffle with every purchase.

31 The Store (Morgan Quarter)

Perfect for: Independent menswear store in Cardiff with products exclusive to Wales.

Route One (Morgan Quarter)

Perfect for: Street wear and Action Sports clothing.

Two Seasons (Queens Arcade)

Perfect for: Ski, skate and surf shop selling main brands of clothing and equipment for adults and kids.

Christmas Markets

Cardiff Indoor Market

Perfect for: Cardiff’s indoor market is over a hundred years old and still going strong.  It’s a great place to hit up if you need home hardware, specialist foodie gifts, pet supplies, sewing and crafty gifts and vinyl records.  It’s absolutely criminal to come away without buying a bag of ten Welsh Cakes from Bakestones. Also, they’ve got their Night Market this week on Thursday (14th) from 6 til late.

Cardiff Outdoor Christmas Market

Perfect for: Opening this week on the 14th of November and running all the way through until the 23rd of December, the Christmas Market is one of the best places to support independent Welsh Brands and pick up one of a kind gifts. Find a list of this year’s vendors here.

Cardiff Christmas Makers Market (Paget Rooms, Penarth)

Perfect for: (*16th and 17th of November only) Market packed full of stalls by local brands, crafters, makers and creatives. £1 entry – find out more information here.

Food & Drink

Wally’s Delicatessen and Kaffe Haus (Morgan Quarter)

Perfect for: Foodie gift central.  Wally’s has its own unique aroma, you’ll smell the spices and cured meat long before you step inside.  It’s definitely the place to go if you’re looking for things to go into a Christmas hamper, as well as hot sauces, biscuits, chocolates, cheeses, pannettone and Christmas pudding.  They’ve also got a coffee shop on the second floor.

*City of Arcades Day: Buy an open sandwich or platter from the Kaffehaus and get one half price. Sample Hensol Castle Distillery’s range of Crawshay’s Gins and Gin Liqueurs. Buy One Gin, Get One Liqueur Free

Wally’s Liquor Cellar (Castle Arcade – next to Gin and Juice)

Perfect for: Wines, drinks and spirits.  Perfect if you’re looking to gift some quirky drinks or liquors – including Welsh-brewed products – or stock up for New Year’s Eve!

*City of Arcades Day: 10% off all purchases of Cloven Hoof products.

Vom Fass (High Street Arcade)

Perfect for: Specialist Oils and Spirits in aesthetically pleasing and quirky jars and bottles.

Bean Freaks (St Mary’s Street)

Perfect for: Natural foods, remedies and beauty products.

*City of Arcades Day: Free Goody Bag with every purchase.

Simply V (Castle Arcade)

Perfect for: Vegan groceries, toiletries and clothing.

City of Arcades Day: Get 10% off all purchases except non-food items.

Madame Fromage

Perfect for:  Cheesy gifts, literally!  Specialty cheeses and hampers.  They also offer Cheese and Wine Tasting evenings from £25 a head which my Dad would be all over.

Bird and Blend (Castle Arcade)

Perfect for:  Quirky Loose Leaf Tea Blends and Mixology. It’s just moved in to the old spot next to Troutmark Books where the Harry Potter Store used to be; I popped in the other day to see what it was all about and was blown away by all the beautiful tea!

Fabulous Welshcakes (Castle Arcade)

Perfect for:  Beautifully made Welsh Cakes in lots of quirky flavours!

*City of Arcades Day: Limited edition salted caramel welsh cakes.

Books & Music

Spillers (Morgan Quarter)

Perfect for: LEGENDARY.  CDs and Vinyl.  The world’s oldest record shop and a Cardiff institution.  ‘Nuff said.

*City of Arcades Day: Live music and DJ sets from 5pm until late.

Cranes (High Street/Lower End of St Mary’s Street)

Perfect for: Gifts for musicians.  Cranes is the Mecca for Cardiff Musicians and the place to go to buy instruments and accessories.

Troutmark Books (Castle Arcade)

Perfect for: Lovely secondhand book store tucked away in Castle Arcade. Great place to pick up a secondhand gem! 🙂

Coffee Shops & Pitstops

Barker Tea House (High Street Arcade)

*City of Arcades Day: Free mini Bakestones Welsh Cake with any Large, Hot Drink.

Nata & Co (Castle Arcade)

*City of Arcades Day: Get 15% off all flavours.

Crumbs (Morgan Quarter)
The Plan (Morgan Quarter)
Llaeth a Siwgr (Yr Hen Llyfrgell)
Big Moose Coffee (Frederick Street)
Science Cream (Castle Arcade)

*City of Arcades Day: 20% off Hot Drinks.

Arcade Vault Retro Gaming Cafe

*City of Arcades Day: Mario Kart 8 Charity Tournament.

Gin & Juice (Castle Arcade)

*City of Arcades Day: Special Show Case of Gins with recommended garnishes and tonics.

Uncommon Ground (Morgan Quarter)
Waterloo Tea (Wyndham Arcade)

*City of Arcades Day: Get 20% off gifted teapots and a free sample of loose-leaf tea with any tea that is bought to drink inside.

Hard Lines (Cardiff Indoor Market and Castle Emporium)
The New York Deli (High Street Arcade)
Coffee Barker (Castle Arcade)

*City of Arcades Day: Free mini Bakestones Welsh Cake with any Large, Hot Drink.

Happy Shopping! If you’ve got any Cardiff Christmas Shopping suggestions then I’d love to hear them – I’m always discovering new favourites! 🙂

4 Bungle Stories to make you Smile

Don’t Stop… Retrieving!
Golden Retriever Stories - The Cardiff Cwtch

It’s been a while since I’ve done a Bungle-themed post, in spite of the fact that he appears in almost all the photographs I pop up on the blog and on social media. Let’s be honest, he’s pretty much the star of this show – and everyone’s favourite Goldie. He makes me laugh every single day (as well as my neighbours, who get to see me being humped up and down the street by him) and is literally this woman’s best friend.

Sunny and I were having a chat the other day about some of the funniest things Bungle’s done over the past couple of years and I thought it was high time for a bit of a pup-date and a look back over a couple of his finest moments, as well as some recent corkers…

Golden Retriever Stories - The Cardiff Cwtch

The Terrifying Child-Eating Lion

If you follow me on Social Media (either over on Twitter or Instagram), then there’s absolutely no way you’ll have missed being spammed by pictures of Bungle in his Lion get-up (sorry, not sorry). Sunny bought the lion mane a couple of years ago after seeing that Amazon Prime advert to surprise me for my birthday, and we just couldn’t resist having some fun with it this Halloween. It’s one of Bungle’s favourite nights of the year because we get lots and lots of visitors ringing the doorbell, and plenty of kids trick or treating because there are loads of young families in our neighbourhood. They all know and love Bungle because he’s such a happy, friendly dog, and so we’re always on the list of houses to stop at. This year, we were prepared. We popped a sign outside the front door with our pumpkins that read “Beware of the Child-Eating Lion”, set up some lion noises to play over our TV speakers, and had Bungle all dressed up and ready to roar.

The first couple of kids were nervous ringing the doorbell, but absolutely loved it when we opened the door and Bungle came rushing out to greet them – so much so that the massive bowl of chocolate I was holding got completely sidelined… for a minute or so, anyway. “Is that a real lion?!” one little girl asked as Bungle slurped at her hand. Some kids laughed and then went straight for the chocolate (“My dog’s got one of those!”), and there were a few younger ones who were nervous until we told them that it was just Bungle dressed up in his own Halloween costume.

Then there were the two kids who knocked the door, took one look at Bungle and then legged it off down the road screaming, “IT’S A REAL LION!!!” Hilarious.

Golden Retriever Stories - The Cardiff Cwtch

The Cheese Thief

Bungle absolutely loves cheese (I mean, what dog doesn’t?); while he takes begging to the next level with the way he sits in front of you drooling with his big brown eyes, he’s always been really well behaved when it comes to taking food that doesn’t belong to him. He’s never stolen food off the table or the kitchen counters, and so we’ve always trusted him and been happy to leave most things sitting out when we’re in the middle of cooking or eating. Or so we thought.

I decided to treat Sunny to an epic Mexican feast one night – Quesadillas, Nachos, the works – and I’d bought some really nice Applewood-smoked cheese to use (you can’t have Mexican food without cheese, thems the rules). I prepared the Quesadillas whilst Sunny grated a nice big pile of cheese onto a chopping board, ready to top the Nachos. I cooked up filling, fed Bungle his dinner, and then we left everything out to assemble once we were ready to eat.

About half an hour later, Sunny got hungry and told me that he was going to start putting everything together while I curled up with Bungle on the sofa and carried on watching TV. A minute later, there was a shout from the kitchen, “Oi, what did you do with the cheese?” I shrugged and shouted back, “Nothing, I haven’t moved it. You must have.” He shouted back, “Well it’s not here, you must have moved it. Did you put it in the fridge or something?” I groaned as I paused the TV and stomped through to the kitchen to profess my innocence, “I haven’t touched the bloody cheese – YOU grated it, you must have moved it!”

The chopping board was there, the cheese grater was there, but the mountain of cheese had completely disappeared. There wasn’t even a shred of it left behind – just a light glaze over the chopping board where it had been sitting. We puzzled over it for a couple of minutes until I found a small thread of blonde hair hanging off the chopping board. A good few minutes passed while we doubted it, until we went through into the lounge where Bungle was curled up on the sofa and sniffed his very smoky, very cheesy breath.

Golden Retriever Stories - The Cardiff Cwtch

The Pheasant

We’re really lucky to have an open field within a few feet of where we live and of course, it’s Bungle’s favourite place in the whole world. In the winter he loves heading up there to chase kids playing around on sleds, and in the summer he loves rolling around in the long grass. It’s also my favourite place to walk him because he tends to misbehave for me on the lead (he drags me around and humps my legs and just generally turns me into the neighbourhood laughing stock…) – the field is enclosed, so I can just let him off to run around and do his thing, and usually he’s really well behaved. Usually.

I took him up there one Sunday morning; we walked a whole lap without a problem and I was just about to call him over to put him back on the lead when he went sniffing around in one of the hedges. I stood waiting patiently for a couple of minutes, and then pulled a face when I saw him emerge with what looked like a bright red t shirt. Bit odd, I thought, as I watched him drag it out and trot towards me. I got a better look as he brought it over; it was a red, green and brown t shirt. With a beak. And EYES. It wasn’t a t shirt, it was actually a very dead, very fresh pheasant.

When I yelped, Bungle legged it off into the field – thrashing the limp body of the pheasant around in a shower of red and green feathers. Stupidly, I chased after him. I mean was I actually going to grab the dead pheasant when (IF) he stopped? No way was I playing that game of tug of war. So instead I tried to lure him over with treats. He wasn’t interested. I tried to run away from him. He wasn’t interested (and was now lying down with the pheasant and starting to rip it apart). I played dead, hoping he’d panic and rush over to see if I was okay. He didn’t notice. Dick. Despairing, I eventually called Sunny and begged him to come and rescue me, and as soon as he appeared over the crest of the hill like bloody Julie Andrews about to break into song, Bungle dropped the pheasant and went rushing over to greet him. DICK.

The New Coat

Bungle’s got a lot of floof (the technical term for his fur), and so not only does he shed like crazy (we have to hoover every single day or we get balls of it rolling across the hard floors like tumble weed), but wet walks are a nightmare. His fur seems to absorb it like a sponge, and the fur hanging from his belly soaks up all the wet dirt and grit from the street too.

While it’s just something you’ve got to expect when you get a dog, if there’s anything that can make life a little easier then I’m all for it. Wales is a wet place; it rains pretty much 80% of the year. He’s got a towel jumper that we throw on him if he’s really wet (stops him shaking mud onto my walls), but this year I decided to bite the bullet and convinced Sunny to get him an anorak. With a hood.

Yes, he looks ridiculous – but you know what? It works! Now he comes back from his walks soggy rather than soaked, and I’ll take that. But he gets far more attention than he usually does when he wears it, so he’s happy! 🙂

Golden Retriever Stories - The Cardiff Cwtch

If you want more from Bungle and fancy keeping up with his daily shenanigans, he’s got his very own Instagram. Have a lovely weekend! 🐶🐶🐶

Basic (but banging) Birthday Cake with Buttercream Icing

A moist but structured white sponge cake, and the creamiest buttercream you’ll ever make…
Basic, Plain Birthday Cake with the best ever buttercream icing

Full disclosure; today’s post was supposed to be a recipe for some very Bonfire Night appropriate Smores Brownies (*sigh* they were going to be so good! If you’re looking for some Bonfire Bakes then check out this post…). But, the truth is that Mercury Retrograde found me, and last weekend everything mysteriously went a bit Pete Tong. Now, I’m not really someone who really believes in all that astrology stuff (although, when NASA announced that all the star signs were off and that I was actually a Libra instead of a Scorpio, I was understandably outraged), but on Friday it was like some cosmic switch got flicked and everything suddenly and inexplicably went tits up. I just felt a bit off and then I started making these really stupid mistakes all over the place. I managed to cut my finger and split my nail whilst grating a carrot of all things, my steam mop – out of nowhere – gave up the ghost just when I desperately needed to use it (muddy paw prints, everywhere!), I gave my lounge wall a bruising Glasgow Kiss when I bent over to pick something up, and I even managed to cock up not one, but two very simple bakes when I made a really stupid mathematical error in dividing down quantities. Ugh! What the hell had happened?Desperate to find something to blame my sudden inability to count and to function as a normal human being on, I rolled my eyes as I actually googled the words “Is Mercury in Retrograde?”, and ended up feeling a bit freaked out when – surprise! – it was. It had literally shifted on Thursday night. Spooky, no?

Anyway, thankfully one bake did work out this weekend – and that was Sunny’s birthday cake (on the second attempt…). My husband turned a ripe old age over the weekend, and I always make him a birthday cake (even when he protests), but this year I didn’t really have the time or the ingredients to pull anything particularly fancy out of the bag. So, instead, I pulled out my tried, tested and true recipe for plain old white cake with buttercream frosting. Yes, it’s basic – but sometimes that’s exactly what you need when making a birthday cake. You want a sponge that’s moist and easy to bake, but still has structure to it so you can slice it and stack it and mold it into whatever shape you need it to take. You want a simple but delicious flavour that’s going to suit everyone, and isn’t going to be too sweet once you’ve decorated it. And as for the buttercream, it needs to be thick, it needs to be creamy, it needs to hold its shape and it needs to be sweet – but not sickly. And this is the recipe I reach for when I need a cake that’s all of the above. Basic, but banging. And reliable! …Except for when Mercury moves into Retrograde, apparently… *eye roll*

Plain Birthday Cake with Creamy Buttercream Frosting

Basic (but banging) Birthday Cake with Buttercream Icing

Tried, Tested and True, and your Brand New Birthday Go-To…
Ingredients
  • 175g softened, salted butter
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 225g self raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 125ml buttermilk
For the Buttercream
  • 250g softened, salted butter
  • 500g icing sugar
  • 100ml double cream

*This should make enough to both sandwich and cover the cake. Make sure you use salted butter – that’s very important!

Method
  1. Set your oven to 180°C and grease a deep, loose-bottomed cake tin (I like to use one with a 15cm diameter for a doorstop slice, without the excess).
  2. In a mixing bowl, cream together your butter and sugar until you get lovely, whipped and creamy mix – the more elbow grease (or electricity if you’re using an electric mixer!) you put in at this stage, the fluffier your cake is going to be.
  3. Pour in the beaten eggs – gradually mixing everything together – then sift in half of the flour.
  4. Next mix in the buttermilk, and then follow it with the last of the flour and finally the baking powder to make a smooth batter.
  5. Bake the cake for about 40 minutes, or until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool.
  6. Once the cake has cooled, slice it in half as evenly as you can. Sandwich with a layer of raspberry jam and buttercream, then cover with a smooth, even layer of buttercream – building it up gradually. Decorate with rainbow sprinkles. 🙂

Have a great week everyone! 🙂

Parisian Hot Chocolate – “Chocolat Chaud”

“YO YO, make yourself a wicked cup of COCOA…”

Happy first of November! I don’t know about you – and I’ve definitely seen a few people talking about it over on Twitter and Instagram – but as soon as the clocks go back and Halloween hits, it feels like time suddenly puts pedal to the metal and zooms right on through all the celebrations from now until the New Year. We don’t get a break! Bonfire Night, Thanksgiving (if you’re American), Christmas, New Year – bam, bam, bam! There are loads of birthdays in my family this time of year too – from my husband (who’s hitting a ripe old age tomorrow) to my brother, and then on to me! Oh, and then there’s the General Election (*groan* and that’s about as much as I’m going to comment about it on here). With all that rushing around in the weeks ahead, it’s definitely important to steal a few quiet moments when you can just to chill and stop your head spinning for a bit. And my preferred method is definitely stealing away with a slab of chocolate, a hot drink and a good book or magazine.

While I’m most definitely a tea fanatic, I do love the odd hot chocolate this time of year – and usually in the evening. But let’s be clear, we’re not talking about the powdered stuff you reach for in the middle of the night when you can’t sleep – the stuff we’re talking about is made with real chocolate and is basically the great granddaughter of the so-called “Drink of the Gods” that all the nobility were obsessed with in the 18th century.  It was brought over to Europe by the Spanish Conquistador Cortés and it became so popular so quickly (once they’d sweetened it with a little sugar) that it was even served up during the auto-da-fé of the Spanish Inquisition, and women became so obsessed with it that they insisted on swigging it during church! Lots of those Spanish noblewomen ended up marrying French noblemen and so the obsession spread. Parisian Hot Chocolate (“Chocolat Chaud”) is much thicker, and much richer than your regular cup of cocoa (yo yo), and pours into the cup like lava. It’s literally melted chocolate that you can drink. It’s so easy to make; too easy in fact, especially given that the traditional recipe calls for both whole milk and double cream before you even get around to adding in the chocolate. My recipe is a slightly skinnier version and uses just three ingredients, but it’s just as dreamy as the original and makes enough for two large cups (or four small taster cups). Even better, flask it up and take it along with you on bonfire night! Once you’ve cracked the base recipe, you can get creative adding flavoured syrups and spices – or even give it a go using different types of chocolate. 🙂

Parisian Hot Chocolate – “Chocolat Chaud”

You’ll never drink the instant stuff again (and you’re going to hate me for it)…
Ingredients
  • 450ml skimmed milk
  • 150ml double cream
  • 150g of whatever chocolate you fancy (I really like Dark Milk Chocolate for this recipe; it’s got a higher cocoa content and so isn’t too sweet, but still has that creamy taste you’d expect from a bar of milk chocolate.)
  • Serve with a dollop of whipped cream if you’re feeling fancy – or just enjoy as is.
Method
  1. This recipe is so easy it should be criminal. First, pour the skimmed milk and double cream into a saucepan and then crank up the heat, stirring gently until you start to see small bubbles forming around the outside. Whatever you do, you don’t want the mixture to boil – so as soon as you start to see those bubbles, turn the heat down as low as you can.
  2. Next, throw in your chocolate and stir until it’s completely melted into the milk and cream mixture.
  3. Pour into cups and enjoy! It’s that easy! 😉

Have a cosy weekend guys, it’s going to be a gloomy one! 🙂