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! 🙂

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! 🙂

Sticky Apple-filled Cinnamon Buns

“My Anaconda don’t want none unless you got buns, hon…”
Easy Apple Cinnamon Buns - The Cardiff Cwtch

So, I’ve gotten a bit obsessed with Conspiracy Theory Podcasts. I know, I know! See, my favourite women’s history podcast (Queens, in case you’re wondering – it’s completely brilliant) is kind of between episodes at the moment and so I went hunting for something else to listen to on the morning dog walk (read: muddy trudge in the drizzle to the local park). I found an episode about Amelia Earhart and conspiracy theories concerning her disappearance (THE WOMAN JUST VANISHED) and woops! I kind of fell down a hole. But you know what? They’re kind of perfect listening for gloomy Autumn days and even darker nights in. A bit of history, a lot of mystery… and, sometimes – yeah – a heavy helping of nonsense.

But what do Conspiracy Theory Podcasts have to do Cinnamon Buns, I hear you asking. Absolutely nothing. Except for the fact that they seem to be soundtracking most of my cooking and baking at the moment. For example, as I was baking these very sticky buns the other day, I was listening to a couple of episodes talking about how the Sugar Industry for a long time secretly fiddled scientific studies to throw the blame on fat for Heart Disease instead of sugar. If you’ve got any recommendations on podcasts, I’d love to hear them; I’m always looking for something new to listen to in between episodes of The High Low and Queens. 🙂

Anyway, Cinnamon Buns! I mentioned last week that I’m a big fan of sticky buns in all their forms, but the cinnamon variety are a favourite of mine – especially this time of year. I usually pick up one on my weekly shop as a treat to scoff with a cup of tea when I get back, but I hadn’t quite cracked making them myself. Historically, I’m not the best at baking bread; I’m impatient when it comes to kneading the dough, and even though I’ve got a bread maker to do all the hard work for me – the instant yeast it requires never really creates the pillow-soft dough I’m after. Then last year I started experimenting with Dried Active Yeast and had a bit of a breakthrough on the whole process of making homemade bread when I made this Halloumi Loaf (HEAVEN). Having got the knack of kneading and proving, I moved straight on to buns and finally managed to put together an easy Cinnamon Bun recipe that worked (thanks to The Guardian Food How-To section – always a great place to start when you’re looking to develop your own twist on a classic recipe). A sweet, springy dough perfect for rolling around the sticky cinnamon filling. These doughy buns however, are a little bit extra thanks to the added apple – an easy addition that gives the buns a little something special. Top with whatever topping you fancy – whether that’s cream cheese frosting, sugar glaze, or the cinnamon-spiced icing I went for here – and scoff ideally within a couple of days. As with most homemade bakes, they’re best scoffed fresh out of the oven. 🙂

Apple filled Cinnamon Rolls easy - The Cardiff Cwtch

Sticky Apple-filled Cinnamon Buns

Sticky, doughy and full of cinnamon-spiced apple pie filling. What’s not to like?
Ingredients
  •  3 apples (any variety you fancy)
  • 2 tbsp cinnamon
  • 100g soft brown sugar
  • 2 tsp cardamom seeds
  • 300 ml whole milk
  • 15g dried active yeast
  • 50g melted butter (cooled)
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 420g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
Cinnamon Rolls with Apple Pie Filling - The Cardiff Cwtch
Method
  1. First things first, make the filling. Peel and finely chop the apples – then boil them in water for about 20 minutes, until they’re soft. Get rid of the water, then mash them. Stir in the brown sugar and cinnamon, then set aside and leave to cool.
  2. Gently bring the milk to the boil with the ground cardamom. Pour into a mixing bowl, leave it to cool slightly (down to about 37°C) and then sprinkle in the yeast. Put the bowl somewhere warm (I like to pop mine in the airing cupboard!) until the yeast has dissolved and activated (you should see some bubbles or foam forming over the surface of the milk).
  3. Next, stir in the melted butter, sugar and egg.
  4. Gradually pour in the flour and salt, mixing together to make a sticky dough.
  5. Next, knead the dough. If you’ve got a fancy dough hook on your mixer, use that – if not, you’re going to have to roll up your sleeves to get to work. I don’t like to add anymore flour, so the dough will be really sticky and impossible to work with at first – but stick at it (stick being the operative word!) and slowly everything will come together to create a smooth, pliable, stretchy dough.
  6. Pop it into a clean, lightly-greased bowl, cover with a damp tea towel and then leave the dough to double in size in a warm place for about an hour.
  7. Set the oven to 200°C.
  8. Next, roll out the dough into a rectangle about a centimetre thick – then spread with the apple filling. Roll it tightly into a sausage shape, then cut into six equally sized buns. Place the buns into a lined, deep baking tray. Bake for 25 minutes until well-risen and golden, then leave to cool.
  9. Top with cream cheese frosting or icing, then scoff! 🙂
Easy Cinnamon Bun Recipe with Apple Filling - The Cardiff Cwtch

Happy Friday everyone! 💛

My Anti-Aging Starter Kit

Death Becomes Her…

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Let’s call this, “I’m a month or so away from turning 34 and need to start doubling down”, because the truth is that I’ve been a little bit lazy when it comes to anti-aging products up until now.  Although, maybe “lazy” isn’t really the right word.  First of all, I’ve got sensitive skin that’s acne prone and so have pretty much stuck to the same old skin routine and the same products all the way through my twenties.  The thought of  suddenly introducing active serums, acids and retinols felt a little bit… reckless. I mean, if it ain’t broke (or covered in hives and zits) don’t fix it, right?  Secondly, I haven’t – until recently – felt like I was clued up enough on this sort of stuff to take the plunge.  Which brings me to my third point, I haven’t really been bothered enough about anti-aging beauty to get clued up.

Honestly, I’ve always been really skeptical about anti-aging beauty products.  The whole anti-aging game has always felt a little “Death Becomes Her” to me (Remember that movie?  One of my all time faves!).  Isn’t it all just really, really expensive snake oil, and in the end a bit… pointless?  I’m not afraid of wrinkles – aging is a privilege, after all – but I wouldn’t mind holding off the effects for just a little while longer.  And if those products can solve some of my other skin issues then that’s a plus!  So over the past six months or so I’ve been swotting up on the ingredients of various anti-aging products and learning a little bit about what they claim to do, and then picked some inexpensive but highly-rated products from the pool to slip into my daily skin routine. I’m still mostly clueless and a little bit baffled and suspicious of it all, it has to be said.  But hey, I’ll tell you what I’ve learned so far, what I’m using and then I’ll let you know how I’m getting on in a couple of months. 🙂

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A313 Vitamin A Pommade

If the Beauty Boffins are to be believed then we should all be slipping a Retinol/Vitamin A product into our routine and using it three times a week.  Retinol is naturally occurring in the human body; it works hard to balance things out – it regulates oil production, stimulates collagen and increases cell turnover.  Not only is it claimed to be great for treating acne and pigmentation, it’s also said to be the miracle ingredient that boosts hydration and smooths out fine lines and wrinkles.  However, it can be strong stuff; it can increase irritation for those who suffer from eczema and rosacea, and can even increase the skin’s sensitivity to sunlight.  It also breaks down in sunlight.  So it’s important to ease yourself in slowly, never use it in conjunction with acids, only on bone dry skin (as Vitamin A reacts with water), use it only at night and always in conjunction with a day cream that’s high in SPF.

So, funny story, I actually picked up a double pack of the A313 Vitamin A Pommade for $5 while I was in the States.  I found it lurking at the bottom of a bucket at a Consignment Store of all places (basically leftover stock from Amazon sold on the cheap); no one had snagged it yet because it’s kind of difficult to tell what it actually is unless you’ve seen it before and read up about it – which is exactly what I’d done a couple of months earlier.  Previously known as Avibon, it’s one of those cult French Pharmacy Beauty Products that’s been raved about by celebrities and beauty bloggers alike – and honestly, I couldn’t believe my luck when I found it.  I’ve started using it twice a week to ease my skin in, and no more than a pea-sized amount for the whole face.  It’s got a texture like vaseline, hasn’t really got a fragrance and isn’t honestly the most pleasant thing that I’ve put on my face at night – but tell you what, it’s a bulldozer when it comes to cystic acne.  As for pigmentation and wrinkles, I’ll let you know!

La Roche-Posay Vitamin C Serum

On the nights I don’t use the A313 Pommade, I stick to old faithful and drench my skin in the Kiehls Midnight Recovery Concentrate – but up until now, I’ve been yet to add an oil or serum to my morning routine.  Enter the La Roche-Posay Vitamin C Serum.  We all know the health benefits of swigging orange juice and loading up on Vitamin C this time of year, but how exactly does it help skin?  Well, Vitamin C is basically a strong anti-oxidant that combats “Free Radicals”.  Great.  What the hecky peck are Free Radicals?  Free Radicals are essentially unstable atoms created by things such as pollution, cigarette smoke and the sun.  They can damage the skin by causing pigmentation and can also break down collagen in the skin and therefore cause wrinkles.  Tada.  Vitamin C neutralises Free Radicals and helps skin cells regenerate.  Not only that, but it can boost collagen production (effectively smoothing over wrinkles) and also fights pigmentation.

I was interested in adding a Vitamin C Serum because I’ve got quite a bit of pigmentation on my cheeks left over from cystic acne, and anything that’s going to kick butt against Free Radicals sounds good to me.  So I’ve slipped in the La Roche-Posay Vitamin C Serum into my morning routine; one drop of the stuff goes a long way, and I massage it into my skin before adding my daily moisturiser (the Nivea Daily Essentials Rich Moisturing Cream).  I chose it because a serum is the suggested way of introducing Vitamin C into your routine, but also because this one claims to be pretty good for sensitive skin – and so far so good!  It’s a little tacky as it sinks in, so I was worried about how it was going to sit under my foundation – but actually it sits under it quite well and adds a little extra glow!  Too soon to tell whether it’s working, but I’ll let you know.

Lancôme Génifique Youth Activating Eye Cream

So of all anti-aging products, I’ve always felt like eye creams are the biggest scam out there, and I promised myself that I’d never fork out a fortune on one of them.  However, I have introduced a couple into my morning routine, but not because they claim to prevent under-eye wrinkles.

I went to a beauty masterclass with Bobbi Brown not so long ago, and one of my burning questions to the makeup artist hosting the class was, “How do I stop the midday panda eye?”  I wear both a liquid and kohl eyeliner and use smudge-proof mascara, but no matter what I do or how I apply it all – I end up with dark smudges under my eyes by lunchtime.  The answer – I have on good authority – is eye cream.  Eye cream creates a base for your foundation, keeps it in place and therefore prevents things like mascara from sticking to it.  Tada.  And it works!  Who’d have thunk it?!  So, I go between the Elemis Peptide4 Eye Recovery Cream (which I was kindly gifted) and this little travel pot of the Lancôme Génifique Youth Activating Eye Cream.  Make no bones about it, this shiz is expensive stuff and I doubt I’ll be repurchasing, but it claims to fight under eye puffiness, dark circles and crows feet – in case you’re interested.  I don’t know if it does those things honestly, my under-eye area isn’t a priority for me, but it smooths on beautifully, works well under makeup and you barely need any of it to cover the whole area.

Jade Roller

(Another Consignment Store bargain!) So you’ve probably seen every blogger on the planet sneak a Jade or Rose Quartz Roller into their latest flatlay, and yeah, they look pretty – but do they actually do anything other than decorate a nightstand?  Turns out, yeah, they do.  Traditional Chinese Derma Rollers made from gemstones are used for facial massage – which is recommended by the Beauty Boffins to aid lymphatic drainage and boost circulation.  Combined, this can reduce puffiness, tone and brighten the skin.

It definitely gives my husband a good chuckle when he crawls into bed and sees me paint-rollering my skin last thing at night, and whether it’s actually doing anything remains to be seen at this point – but I like it!  I use it on the nights when I’m not wearing the A313 Pommade and use it straight after popping on the Kiehls Midnight Recovery Oil.  It’s cooling, takes only a few minutes and feels really, really nice!

Lots of Water!

Lastly – and the cheapest thing in my new anti-wrinkle arsenal… Water, and lots of it!  I’ve always been really, really bad at hitting the recommended water intake – other than when I’m on holiday.  When I’m out in the sun, I’m always swigging from a bottle of the good stuff and whaddya know? My skin always looks so much better for it!  It’s hydrated, clear and bright – and that’s what I want on the daily.

What anti-aging products are in your beauty bag at the moment?  Or are you an anti-aging skeptic like me?  Any recommendations, let me know!  Have a great week! 🙂

 

Snapshots from Florida

A Hurricane, A Pelican and a Balcony Bathtub…
Snapshots from Florida

Oh, these are exactly the sort of pictures I want to look at just after getting in from the soggy morning dog walk.  Pictures of fizzy, tango sunsets and palm trees and clear water and blackened Mahi Mahi Tacos.  Ugh, I ache!  I get asked a lot, “Why Florida?”  Why do I go back year after year when I could be exploring somewhere new for my summer vaycay?  And I guess the answer is; I don’t want to go anywhere else.  Southwest Florida is home – in a way.  Not just for me, but for Sunny too.  We’ve both been going there since we were teenagers and know it so, so well by now, that we never experience that foreign feeling you get during the first week of a holiday where you’ve arrived somewhere you’ve never been before and need to spend a couple of days figuring out where everything is, where’s good to eat etc.  And yeah, some might say that’s all part of the adventure of going somewhere new, but I love the familiarity of Florida; there’s always a massive sigh of relief when I get off the plane at Miami Airport (and not just because, yay! I survived the flight!), but because the holiday starts immediately.  And boy, did we need it this year!

I also get asked a lot why I don’t go anywhere near Orlando.  The truth is that there’s so much more to Florida than just the parks.  The Gulf Coast and The Keys are where the real party’s at – and our favourite spot by far is Naples.  Not only has it got some of the most beautiful beaches in the world and plenty of things do when you’re not topping off your tan, but it’s so quiet – especially during the summer and early Autumn.  And honestly, I’m a little nervous about shouting too loudly about how much I love it there because it’s always felt like a bit of a secret – and I kind of want to keep it all to myself.  This year, we spent two lovely weeks there chilling out by the pool (all the while keeping our eye on Hurricane Dorian out in the Atlantic), eating a lot of Tacos and filling our suitcase with lots of bargains from the outlet malls scattered either side of I75. 🙂

Snapshots from Florida

I pretty much lived in this Hawaiian Shirt while I was out there.  One of the best things about taking a late August/early September holiday is that most of the summer fashion goes on sale just before you leave, and everything in this picture was a total steal.  I spotted the shirt trawling the sale section of ASOS and decided that not only was it the ugliest shirt I’d ever seen, but that I had to have it.  The heart-shaped sunglasses were £3 from H&M (I get so many compliments when I wear them, which drives my husband absolutely nuts because he HATES them), and the bag and denim skirt were bargains from F&F at Tesco for £8 and £7 respectively.  I was a little sad packing away these yellow tassel sliders from Zara the other day – I can’t wait to wear them again next year!

Snapshots from Florida
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Snapshots from Florida
Snapshots from Florida
Snapshots from Florida

For the final week of the holiday, we packed up the car and headed down to The Keys.  I used to stay on one of the middle islands called Islamorada with my parents and brother when I was teenager, and last year I took Sunny down there for a few days – knowing that he’d absolutely love the island vibe coupled with the incredible wildlife and fishing.  He did love it, and so this year we booked in for a week at my favourite hotel there, Cheeca Lodge, as a treat to finish the holiday with a bang.  It’s a beautiful hotel anyway – no matter what room you end up staying in – but lucky us – we got upgraded to one of the mini suites in the main lodge, which came with a balcony bathtub!  Over our five or so days there we went fishing, lounged around the pool, went snorkelling on the reef and ate Mahi Mahi Tacos pretty much every single night. 🙂

Snapshots from FloridaSnapshots from Florida
Snapshots from Florida
Snapshots from Florida

We also ended up rescuing a pelican.  From day one there was a very friendly pelican hovering around at the bottom of the pier waiting to score a fish from anyone who happened to be fishing there – sometimes even when it was still on the hook!  I kind of grew a bit of a soft spot for her, and so it was heartbreaking to head down there one morning to find her hobbling around with a massive fishing lure stuck in her flipper.  Luckily, she was so tame that Sunny and a few other guests were able to wrangle her and then gently tease out the lure, and she flapped away to fish another day. 🙂

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Snapshots from Florida
Snapshots from Florida
Snapshots from FloridaSnapshots from FloridaSnapshots from Florida

Have a lovely weekend! 🙂