Monthly Archives: February 2011

“Skinny” raspberry and white chocolate muffins

I’ll be honest, I’m not sure there is such a thing as a skinny muffin. I think we all know that if you’re on a diet you shouldn’t really be eating muffins in the first place. But it’s my boss’ birthday, and apparently she’s trying to lose weight. Being the resident baker, I was charged (in a team meeting, no less) with the task of creating a “diet cake”. (Diet cake! really!!) In these circumstances a skinny muffin seems like a perfectly natural thing.

Makes 18 medium-sized muffins, or probably 12 large muffins.

400g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
100g caster sugar
200ml low-fat yogurt
2 eggs
150ml milk
150g raspberries (it’s fine to use frozen – I did)
50g white chocolate chips

1. Preheat the oven to 190C (fan 170C). If you don’t have a silicone muffin tray, line your tray with paper cups (then go out and get yourself a silicone muffin tray!)
2. Sift the flour and baking powder into a large bowl, then add the sugar, raspberries and chocolate chips
3. Whisk the eggs, yogurt and milk in a jug until combined
4. Add to the dry ingredients and mix until combined
5.  Bake for 25 minutes until risen and golden brown

Recipe notes
You might wonder why, if these are supposed to be “skinny” muffins, I have added chocolate. My reasoning is that if the muffin itself is skinny, then that means you can add chocolate. Flawless logic! Also, what with the raspberry each muffin is practically one of your five-a-day. Finally, I just wanted to make raspberry and white chocolate muffins, okay? I have never, to date, baked something I didn’t want to bake and I’m not planning to start just for the sake of a birthday (sorry).

Having said that, I actually thought they could have done with more chocolate, and more raspberries. But I did reduce the sugar from the original and they were just fine. In fact they were pretty scrummy!

An alternative would be to do sour cherry and lemon muffins (like my mother would), which would avoid the whole chocolate issue altogether. If you’re really on a quest for skinny muffins, you could use skimmed milk, but I can’t in good conscience endorse that (my housemate used to drink skimmed milk and I’d joke that if I wanted skimmed milk I could get it from the tap – so you can see my opinion of skimmed milk is not too favourable).

I’m sure everyone in the office will like the idea of a “skinny” muffin, and while these are tasty and obviously have less fat than using oil (instead of the yogurt), I’m struggling with the balance a little. They have less fat. They’re not quite as good as regular muffins. The idea is noble, and there’s nothing wrong with the implementation, but I’m thinking life might just be a little too short for skinny muffins.


Marmalade cake with cream cheese icing

Let me talk to you about perfection.

Perfection does not always equate to presentation. We’ve all been to fancy coffee shops or bakeries, where you take out a loan to buy a perfectly-iced, not-a-silver-ball-out-of-place, very disappointing cake. The perfectly piped icing is too sickly, tasting of nothing but sugar. The bite of the cake is not quite right. Good luck if the coffee’s anything to write home about. No, perfection can be many things, and while it’s great when things look beautiful, what makes me fall in love with a recipe is when it can be made with joy. I promise you, it shows.

So, perfection is changing the recipe, going slapdash, chucking ingredients in a bowl, beating with a wooden spoon. It’s cakes sticking to the wrong-sized tins, sunk slightly in the middle, filled in with generous dollops of icing. Scraped, smoothed and swirled with a palette knife, licked off sticky fingers.

Yes, this week it’s marmalade cake with cream cheese icing.


200g butter or margarine, softened
225g caster sugar
4 medium eggs
150g self-raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
100g ground almonds
4 tablespoons thick-cut marmalade (homemade is best, and not too sweet. I used some from last year that my parents gave me)

115g butter, softened
200g cream cheese
1.5 cups icing sugar*

*Why am I mixing weights and cups? Well, butter and cream cheese it makes sense to weigh. Icing sugar, I do not like pouring out to weigh as it all flumps out in one go, in a big pouff of sugar-dust, which makes a mess on things when it settles and is not terribly nice to breathe in. So I prefer to scoop it out carefully in a cup and not sugar-coat my lungs.

For the cakes:
1. Preheat the oven to 180C (160 fan). Grease two 7 inch cake tins
2.  Beat together the butter and sugar in a large bowl. No need for an electric beater, just grab a wooden spoon
3. Add the eggs and mix in well, then beat in the flour, baking powder and ground almonds
4. Finally, add the marmalade and give a good stir to make sure it’s evenly distributed
5. Split between the two tins and bake for 35-40 minutes, until golden brown and cooked in the middle (I had to rotate mine due to an uneven oven, and cover with foil halfway through as they were browning too quickly. They are very moist due to the marmalade, so won’t be terribly springy to touch)

For the icing:
1. Cream together the butter and cream cheese with an electric beater
2. Carefully mix in the icing sugar, then beat on medium speed until light and creamy

Carefully remove the cakes from their tins. Smother the bottom one with half the icing, top with the second cake and finish off with the rest of the icing.

Recipe notes:
As I said, this was not a beautiful cake, at least not in the traditional perfectly-coiffed sense. The cakes stuck to the tins a little, and one almost broke when I was manhlandling it. But really? For a cake that’s one bowl, wooden spoon, minimal effort and completely delicious, it doens’t matter.

I will most definitely be making this again. I can try to find more favourable cooking conditions, grease the tins with oil instead of butter, handle the cakes with an oh-so-light touch. But I’m not sure I will, because I don’t see any need for this cake to be improved. It is brilliant, simply, sloppily and beautifully, just the way it is.

Butternut squash bake

Another easy weeknight meal. I used to not be a big fan of butternut squash, but it goes perfectly with the goats cheese, and even if you hate courgette you can’t really tell what it is in this recipe. Served with couscous this felt like a very wholesome meal and I would definitely make it again.

Ingredients (serves 2)
For the butternut squash bake:
1 butternut squash
1 onion (you could use white or red really)
1 courgette
1 red pepper
75g crumbly goats’ cheese
a small handful of pine nuts (about 50g)
olive oil

For the couscous:
50g couscous

Generous 2 teaspoons green pesto

1. Preheat oven to 200C. Cut the squash in half lengthways and scoop out its innards. Drizzle with olive oil and bake for 30 minutes, or until soft
2.  Meanwhile, chop the pepper, finely chop the onion and finely grate the courgette, squeezing out any excess water. Mix together and fry on a low heat until soft
3.  Add half of the pine nuts and the goats’ cheese to the vegetables and stir until melted in
4.  When the squash halves are ready, fill them with the vegetable mix. Sprinkle over the remaining goats cheese and pine nuts, then return to the oven for a further 10-15 minutes, until it’s all nicely browned on top
5. Make the couscous according to the packet’s instructions (pour on water, leave for a bit). When it’s ready, add the green pesto and stir well (but not too roughly, you don’t want to squash your nice fluffy couscous)

Recipe notes:
This was really yummy. I forgot to buy a red pepper but it was still scrum. It felt like quite an efficient recipe as you can get all the different elements of it going at the same time. I also like recipes that keep you in the kitchen (but not for too long!) as I use the spare 5 minutes I have here and there to get things tidied up, so again minimal washing up after dinner, and a clean kitchen to boot. I declare this recipe a weeknight winner!