…I decided that keeping up with two blogs meant I wasn’t giving proper attention to either, and now post Cakery Bakery stuff on my main blog, makealongstoryshort.net. Come find us there, and click on ‘food’!

You know how I feel about cupcakes. (Do you? You don’t have to, if you don’t want, but in short: too much teeth-rot for not enough cake.) But, you know, there are cupcakes and then there are Hummingbird Bakery cupcakes. So I hear.

My lovely, lovely cousin bought me a Hummingbird Bakery recipe book for Christmas – wasn’t that the nicest thing ever? – and I’ve been dribbling shamelessly over the photographs all month. Unfortunately, I am in a bake-when-the-baby-sleeps phase of life at the moment, and the baby doesn’t sleep. Yesterday, however, charged with the solemn responsibility of bringing chocolate cake to a friend, I snuck downstairs at 7am and made these: chocolate fondant cupcakes.

They won me over because the icing isn’t icing, it’s chocolate and double cream. Now there is a combination I can get behind. And actually, they were quite straightforward. Dry ingredients (all the usual stuff) went in one bowl.

You whisk all that together with an electric whisk (or a freestanding mixer if you’ve got one). If you think you can whisk flour, sugar and cocoa powder together without whisking it all the way around your kitchen, by the way, then think again. Once it’s blended together and you’ve stopped choking on airborne cocoa, add the wet ingredients: milk and a couple of eggs. So far, so standard. The mixture goes into your baking cases and they’re oven-bound for eighteen minutes.

It was at this point that I realised the recipe specified muffin cases, and I’d used smaller cake cases. Not a disaster, but it made what came later much more tricky, and it meant I had twice as many cupcakes as intended. I struggled quite hard to be sad about this, but didn’t manage it.

Now for the frosting. Finely chop some dark chocolate and try not to hurt your hand too much. It’s a bit tricky, but the little shavings you get are oddly satisfying to produce.

Doesn’t that look pretty?

Then you heat some cream until just boiling, and pour the cream into the bowl of chopped chocolate. And it does this.

It smells amazing. I came over all Willy Wonka. I lost my head a bit. I think I might’ve cackled. Keep stirring, and you end up with this.

Once the cake and the frosting are cool, here comes the interesting bit. You dig a chunk out of each cake, pour a bit of the frosting inside, trim the lid to fit, and then put it back on. Then top the whole thing with more frosting. This was terribly exciting, and all the more so because I got to call my tiny spatula into service for only the second time in its life.

The recipe just said to ‘swirl’ the frosting on top, which seemed to assume a bit more cupcake know-how than I had. I had a go at swirling, but I think the frosting wasn’t as stiff as it should’ve been – perhaps I should have left it to cool for longer – and instead, it just slithered. It looked ok, though.


And what about the eating? Pretty good, I thought. The cake goes quite stiff and dense once it’s cool, so I don’t think the mixture was anything special. The frosting is more chocolatey than a whack round the head with a chocolate poker. And the little puddle of chocolate inside is a delight. Can you imagine how good these would be warmed up? Or – steady yourselves – with ice cream?

Deliciousness: I liked them a lot. I wasn’t sure whether I liked them because the cupcake itself was nice, or because they contained so much chocolate. Probably the latter. But either way: yum.

Complexity: More fiddly than your average cupcake, but I rather enjoyed the assembly.

Washing-up pile: Thirteen very messy items. Including a perhaps excessive number of testing spoons.

Casualties: I got the chocolate-chopping bruise on my hand again. I really need to look into that special chocolate knife.

Can we talk about strawberry cheesecake muffins for a minute? Because I made some the other day, and they turned out rather well.

Here is a secret: I am not, at present, at my thinnest. Babies will do that to you, apparently. One would think that the best cure for this would be to stop eating so much cake, but that is not the kind of thinking-outside-of-the-box I’m aiming for. My solution, for the moment, is to occasionally bake stuff with fruit in it, and to allow logic to languish by the wayside until I’m getting a little more sleep. Anyone who tells you that cake doesn’t help with disturbed nights is a teller of falsehoods, and that is the end of it.

Anyway. Strawberry. Cheesecake. Muffins. Three marvellous things rolled into one glorious whole. I found them in my BBC Good Food Cakes and Bakes book, but they’re also here. The muffin mix is a standard flour-sugar-eggs-milk-butter-baking powder concoction, and since the butter needs to be melted, absolutely no creaming is required. The recipe specifies that the mixture should be ‘loose and slightly lumpy’, warning that over-mixing leads to tough muffins. With a sound like a light bulb going off, I remembered that the scones recipe I use asks for the mixture to be combined with a cutlery knife. This is so incredibly awkward that it prevents you mixing too enthusiastically (thus ensuring lightness of scone). So I got out a knife for the muffin mix, too, and it worked just fine.

Knifed.

The next stage is mixing together cream cheese and sugar for the filling.

Then comes the assembly. First, half-fill your paper cases with muffin mix. Then add half a small strawberry…

…and a blob of the cream cheese mixture.

Another spoonful of muffin mix goes over the top to hide the filling.

(Don’t judge me by the colour of my muffin tins, by the way. They’re actually Yorkshire pudding tins, so they don’t get washed. This is the Law of Yorkshire Pudding Tins, and cannot be helped.)

After fifteen minutes in the oven, they’ve risen a fair bit. I didn’t want to burn them so didn’t cook mine quite long enough – they were a little sticky and not very golden-brown. But the muffin was not at all tough (yessss, cutlery knife!) and the filling was a marvel.

Be careful to wait till they’ve cooled a little. Boiling strawberry is not something you want on your tongue under any circumstances. We’ve made this mistake before.

Deliciousness: I find it hard to get excited about muffins, generally, but the filling makes these a little more special. A crowd-pleaser for guests, I bet.

Complexity: Don’t boil your butter into cheese. Otherwise, very easy. A little more assembly than your average muffin, but more enjoyable for that.

Washing-up pile: I rather think the Other Half did the washing up after these, so I didn’t count. Use paper cases rather than the silicone variety for a smaller pile.

Casualties: Strawberry burns aplenty. Learn from our silliness.

Oh, autumn. You tricksy devil, you.

I was so excited about finding myself in late September last week. My friends, autumn means nothing less than PUDDING SEASON. Crumbles, treacle sponges, apple pie and anything else that can be partnered with custard: this is what I dream of at night. But just when I’d got out my crumble dish, all a-quiver with anticipation, the weather suddenly turned tropical for four or five days. We sweltered in 28°C, and it was not a crumble-appropriate temperature at all. O, but I am fortune’s fool.

Today, however, we returned to grim raininess, and the babe and I ventured out to the post office under grey and sullen skies. Crumble was gloriously back on the menu. I decided on a pear and toffee variety from a book of one-pot dishes I have on my shelf. Because, well. Wouldn’t you?

Onwards, then. Step one is the crumble topping. A fairly standard combination of diced butter rubbed into flour, then combined with demerara sugar and chopped hazelnuts. I ended up having to add more flour than instructed (the first attempt was far too sticky), but otherwise, this went well.

From this...

...To this.

I’d forgotten to buy hazelnuts, but happily found an ancient bag of them in the back of my cupboard. The best before date was July 2011, but on balance, I decided I was unlikely to contract E.coli from a hazelnut, and forged ahead anyway.

Step two is the toffee. Making toffee sauce is the most happy-making thing on the planet, I sometimes think. The ingredients are joyous: golden syrup, cream, butter, vanilla essence, sugar. You throw them all in and then gently simmer for a few minutes. It smells like ambrosia itself. Toffee sauce completed.

Step three is the filling. Peel and chop four large pears, fry in more butter for a short while and then add the toffee sauce. Once I’d done this, the pears had juiced up so much that the mixture was quite watery, but I assumed it would reduce in the oven (and so it did).

The pear mixture goes in the bottom of the dish, and the crumble on top. After twenty minutes or so in the oven, it’s done.

(Is it me, or does it look a bit like sick? It’s hard to make crumble look good in a photograph. It was much more appealing in real life, honest.)

Deliciousness: It was lovely. LOVELY. But it didn’t taste much of toffee. The pears overpowered it. More toffee sauce is required, I think. Also, it wouldn’t hurt to include more hazelnuts than the specified two tablespoons. You couldn’t taste those either, though maybe that’s because mine had gone off.

Complexity: Very easy. Pears are a bit gross when you peel and chop them, but at least they don’t need coring.

Washing-up pile: A very reasonable five.

Casualties: Major hand-cramp from rubbing butter into flour. Is there a machine that would do this for you? I’d buy one.

Hey, remember when I used to make cake? Me too. And then I got all huge and spent my weekends hunting down pushchairs in the wilds of North London and then I had a baby, so the cake took a back seat. Well, it turns out that my little boy is really good at sleeping through electric mixers, so I’m sure I can juggle baking AND changing nappies (though not at the same time, because that stuff is nasty).

Anyway, my foray back into flours and sugars yesterday took the form of a fatless Victoria sponge. Fatless, you say? Yes: there’s no butter. The cake rises using the air you’ve whisked into egg whites. I would like to think that this turns the cake into health food. If you ignore the amount of whipped cream you put in it later.

You start with sieving plain flour, cornflour and baking powder together, then, in a separate bowl, separating four eggs and whisking the whites until stiff. Every recipe I’ve ever come across brings out this old chestnut about egg whites being ‘stiff’, and no one has ever specified exactly what they mean. So I take a guess: generally I keep going until the egg is clinging to the whisk like this:

You add caster sugar to the egg whites, then pour in the whisked egg yolks, then whisk a bit more, then fold in the flour mixture. I wasn’t sure how long you were supposed to keep whisking at this point, either, so left it when the mixture dripped smoothly off the whisk like this:

Mostly because my arm was hurting.

That’s about it, as far as the preparation goes: the whole thing is divided between two 8-inch cake tins (I had to use 7-inch tins, because that’s what I’ve got) and they go into the oven for 20 minutes.

Once out, the sponges are a strange, delicate, bubbly texture. They don’t have the same elasticity as a regular sponge, which unfortunately meant they came out in a cone shape, to match the slightly sloping edges of my tins. Use tins with straight edges, if you’ve got them. But lightness is to be encouraged when my previous sponge efforts have been dense enough to use as a Grade-A weapon.

Strawberries, cream and jam are all things that make me exceedingly happy, especially in combination, so I took the construction of the Victoria sponge very seriously. First, cake no. 1 went face-down onto the plate. Then I spread the jam carefully on the top. The sponges are so light that a little ham-fisted spreading could ruin everything, so I stirred the jam vigorously first to make it more movable.

Then I whisked the cream. I always, always accidentally over-whisk cream, and yesterday was no exception. I had to blob it on top of the jam with a spatula, and then spread it out as delicately as possible.

Then came the strawberries. You need about five or six.

And finally, because you can never have too much jam in a given situation, I drizzled some more on top (having heated it up a bit in the microwave).

You almost don’t need another cake on top of this, especially when it’s an odd, lopsided shape and doesn’t fit properly, but since I’d made one, and all, I decided to use it. A bit of icing sugar on the top completed the task.

And there we have it. Clearly, this cake will not be winning any Best in Show prizes. It looks like a wonky spinning top. But – and this is the important part – YUM. The sponge is light and feathery, and the filling is enough to make one weep with joy.

Deliciousness: Lovely, lovely, loveliness. Never mind that it’s not summer anymore. You can never go wrong with a bit of cream and jam.

Complexity: I need to work on appearances (or possibly just buy some different cake tins). But if you can make this with a sleeping four-week-old in the background, you can make it anywhere. It’s not hard.

Washing-up pile: Ten items. I’ll do them tomorrow, honest.

Casualties: Arm-ache from propping up the electric mixer. Wimp.

Look, I know we’ve had torrential rain today. Don’t let that dampen your holiday spirit. With a UV lamp, a summery dessert and a sandpit to rest your feet in – or a handy cat litter tray – you can work all kinds of magic.

Here’s the summery dessert you’re looking for, courtesy of the frankly amazing Cheeky Kitchen: Plump and Perfect Berry Tart. It is fruity, yummy and looks all kinds of impressive. Best of all, it’s so easy that even kitchen dunces like myself can put it together in half an hour. I had to take twice as many step-by-step photos this week, just to get this post beyond two paragraphs.

So, here we go. Start with ready-rolled puff pastry (you can buy the stuff you roll out yourself, of course, but since you need to end up with two identical rectangles, you might’s well let a machine do the rolling for you). My box unexpectedly contained only one sheet of pastry, so I cut it in half. Then flour or grease a baking tray and lay the rectangles one on top of the other on the tray. That goes in the oven by itself for about 15 minutes. I brushed mine with milk first, because I never pass up an opportunity to use a pastry brush.

Once the pastry was out of the oven, I couldn’t help noticing that it was approximately twice the height of the tart in the photograph. I’d have a job balancing fruit on top of that, so I did a bit of cautious prodding to let the air out, until the pastry had reduced in size enough to go at it with a rolling pin.

You roll down the centre to create a little pastry well. Don’t be alarmed if you’re surrounded by little flying pieces of puff pastry dust at this point; just don’t roll too enthusiastically.

On goes the yoghurt. The recipe calls for vanilla flavoured Greek yoghurt, mixed with a vanilla bean. I used just plain Greek yoghurt, mostly because – I confess – the natural stuff is cheaper, plus I hadn’t the first clue where to find a vanilla bean in Tesco (do they come in ones? How large are they? How would you scan one at the till? A mystery).

Then comes the fruit. I stuck to the suggested kiwi fruit, raspberries and blackberries, because the latter two are in season at the moment and are on sale. You could use whatever fruit you prefer, of course. At the moment, I’d stick to the berries: it’s been a good year for berry-growing, and they’re HUGE. I did have a small crisis when I got out my two kiwi fruit and suddenly realised I hadn’t the faintest idea what to do with them. We’ve never eaten them at home before. The last time I had this kind of existential dilemma, I was faced with chopping up a leek and couldn’t remember which bits you actually eat (don’t judge me).

Google to the rescue.

Turns out you chop off the ends, peel and then dice. It’s ok for the middle bits to stay in. Isn’t it amazing what helpful people have put on the internet?

Finally, microwave some clear honey for a few seconds, and drizzle over as you wish.  Because I’d used unsweetened yoghurt, I ended up using quite a lot of honey. But if you’d gone for vanilla yoghurt, you probably wouldn’t need very much.

And there it is.

Doesn’t that look fabulous? You chop it up with a pizza slicer too, which makes any dessert worth having, in my book.

 

Deliciousness: The combination of fruit, pastry, yoghurt and honey is wonderful. Depending on the types of fruit and yoghurt you’ve used, you may need to sweeten to a greater or lesser extent. But you could always have honey on the table, so people could help themselves. Or eat it with icecream.

Complexity: A great deal easier than pie. It’s done in thirty minutes or less, even if you’re the kind of idiot who doesn’t know how to chop up a kiwi fruit.

Washing-up pile: A baking tray, a rolling pin, and a few spoons. A cinch.

Casualties: None. I didn’t even add to my burn collection. A winner!

Look at what I found when browsing WordPress: the Moonlight Baker’s Nutella Layer Cheesecakes. Does that not sound like heaven in a little squashy rectangle? I believe it does. Apart from directing me, once again, to the Nutella aisle, it also gave me an opportunity to investigate baked cheesecakes for the first time, something I’ve been plucking up the courage to do for a while. When I was little, a cheesecake meant a frozen, sculpted-cream frisbee with a gravelly base and a dollop of astringent berries on the top, which we had for dessert when people came for dinner. After that horrific early experience, I went off cheesecakes entirely, but baked cheesecakes are the reason I got back on the straight and narrow. Tesco does a vanilla New York variety that I could eat in one sitting, but which, thankfully, is slightly too expensive for casual purchases.

The difficulty with the Moonlight Baker’s recipe is that it’s American, which meant some things got lost in translation. Having listened very carefully to the Other Half’s explanation of what chocolate graham crackers are (and how you must never, never pronounce them ‘gra-ham’), I came to the conclusion that they aren’t sold here. I also didn’t know what ‘heavy cream’ was, and had to seek advice from US expatriates. I substituted Oreo cookies and double cream, respectively, and had to hope it would do.

This is another food-processor recipe, but the quantities were just small enough that I could use my silly little food mixer and fit it all in. First you crumble the Oreos (one packet was enough) until they’re a fine powder, then mix in some melted butter to help the crumbs stick together. This biscuity sand is spread over the bottom of a lined baking tin.

No, you can't eat them yet.

Give the food mixer a rinse, and then move on to the cheesecake. This is cream cheese, sugar, eggs, double cream and vanilla extract, all dumped in the mixer and pulsed together. Once you have the main mixture, you decant two-thirds of it, and add a couple of Nutella spoonfuls to the rest. And here, predictably, is where things started to go off the beaten track. Looking at the delicious photo on the blog (and my goodness, I love it when someone really knows how to take a good food photo), the consistency of the cheesecake mix is supposed to be…well, cheesy. Once I’d added eggs to my cream cheese and mixed it up a bit, the consistency of my mixture was more like thick cream. I don’t know whether my mixer is over-enthusiastic or whether cream cheese is any denser in the States. Whatever the reason, my two layers of cheesecake didn’t so much ‘layer’ as ‘intermingle’. Heigh-ho, I thought: a marbled cheesecake it is. In the oven with you.

After 30 minutes in the oven the mixture had risen and darkened alarmingly – definitely more yellow than white, and looking more cooked than I’d expected. I crossed my fingers and put it in the fridge for the recommended three hours, before cutting it into little squares.

And the verdict: well, you wouldn’t eat these for the looks. The marbling just doesn’t work as well as the layers, and the yellow looks distinctly eggy and off-putting (something which would’ve been avoided if the vanilla layer had been completely covered by the Nutella layer).

Erm. Yummy?

They’re a little moister and denser than cheesecake should be, too: more like what the French would call flan. But, wonder of wonders, they do actually taste like cheesecake. The Oreo base works wonderfully with the vanilla, and the Nutella is distinctive without being too overpowering.

I haven’t yet worked out how to make the cheesecake mixture thicker, but it might be worth using smaller eggs so there’s less liquid, mixing by hand instead of in the food mixer, and/or using extra thick cream instead of double cream. We’ll see. Because they didn’t last long in our house even just with 2.75 of us eating them, so I’ll definitely be trying again soon.

Deliciousness: Taste couldn’t be faulted. Texture and appearance left a little to be desired. Not yet a dessert for guests, methinks.

Complexity: The worst part was washing up the food mixer three times. That aside, fairly straightforward.

Washing-up pile: Eleven, with two mixing bowls and the dratted food mixer being the worst of it.

Casualties: None in our house, though I can’t be responsible for what the neighbours might’ve done after half an hour of solid food mixing. It sounds like a rusty power drill. Attached to an old cat.

Now is a very good time for raspberries.

I haven’t had much in the way of pregnancy cravings – tinned tomatoes have been the worst of it, and thankfully they don’t tend to end up in desserts – but this week, raspberries became the beaded scarlet berries of the gods themselves, and I could not eat enough of them. Hence, when it came to weekend baking, I went straight to the ‘r’ section of all of my cookbooks.

I chose, in the end, the erroneously named raspberry cupcakes, a recipe I inherited from a friend after falling in love with the pale, fruity little cakes she brought in one Monday morning. They’re erroneously named because, according to my own hazy cakery classification system, they’re not really cupcakes. No swirly frosting, no nicely rounded top. Perhaps they’re technically closer to muffins, although in deference to my native Northern tongue, I’d just call them buns.

Whatever they are, they’re not hard to put together. The surprising element of this recipe is the entire carton of full-fat cream cheese you put in at the beginning, along with caster sugar, vanilla essence, eggs, milk and flour. You’re supposed to cream all of the ingredients together with an electric mixer. I was so delighted at actually owning the suggested kitchen appliance in the recipe for once (albeit a little handheld version, not a freestanding mixer) that I enjoyed the preparation even more than usual.

Once all the ingredients are incorporated, you end up with a thick, creamy-coloured mixture that sticks to the whisk and looks a bit like vanilla custard.

Then in goes four tablespoons of raspberry jam, plus as many fresh raspberries as your little heart desires.

Fruity.

Pleasingly, the recipe asks you to fill up your cupcake cases using an ice cream scoop (why? They don’t specify, but it does work well), then they go in the oven for 25 minutes or so. A bit of sieved icing sugar on the top finishes them off nicely, though as usual I miscalculated the size of my sieve and drowned my cupcakes in clouds of white powder before I could stop myself.

The cupcakes come out pale and flat-topped, speckled with red and sunken in places where the raspberries have been. The cream cheese is the stroke of genius here: it gives the cakes a dense, squishy texture and a smooth taste that’s nicely distinct from your average sponge. Every now and again you come across an explosion of fruit in the middle – the explosion being literal if you’re too greedy to wait till they’re cold, as we were – which was so lovely I wished I’d put in even more raspberries.

The downside is that they’re not especially pretty: a world away from the buttercream-covered masterpieces you see at weddings, and not likely to produce a gasp of admiration when you unveil them at a dinner party. But that sort of thing matters less when they taste good enough to eat ten at a sitting. Honest.

Box o' delights.

Deliciousness: Not only is the cake itself very moreish, the amount of fruit in each cupcake surely makes these healthy. A bonus.

Complexity: Not hard at all, if you’ve got the specified ice cream scoop.

Washing-up pile: Twelve. Quite a lot, actually.

Casualties: One burnt mouth apiece. But that was more self-inflicted than otherwise.

 

The Other Half took his last exam (hopefully ever, or at least for quite a long time) this afternoon.

I took a sneaky afternoon off without telling him, sped home and to Tesco’s like a maniac, and while he was writing about Modern Heuristics (urgh), I was making this:

Because if there’s anything that says ‘celebration’ to this chap, it’s ‘large quantities of Minstrels’.

This is an old-fashioned chocolate cake, according to Nigella’s website, which was the first to appear when I typed ‘chocolate cake’ into Google. Personally, I think the fact that one of the main ingredients is sour cream makes it quite a modern chocolate cake, but let’s not quibble. The cake mix, unusually, contains both baking powder and bicarb (still don’t really know the difference between them), but apart from this and the sour cream, is the usual eggs/sugar/flour/cocoa concoction you’d expect. Nigella recommends – AGAIN – just putting all the ingredients in your handy food processor. The day I actually own a food processor, I’m going to write and tell her. I’m sure she’ll be pleased. Anyway, I did it the long way round, creaming butter, sugar and flour and then adding the whisked cocoa, cream, vanilla and eggs. It’s a layer cake, which meant the stress of producing two identical halves again, but aside from leaving them in the oven a touch too long (they were a little dry around the edges), they seemed to come out ok.

The icing is chocolate, butter, yet more sour cream, vanilla and a LOT of sieved icing sugar. Does anyone know whether inhaling icing sugar is a health risk? I felt like a coal miner after a very cloudy few minutes in the kitchen.

Once the cakes are cool, a third of the icing is sandwiched between them, and the rest goes on the top and sides. This is the first time I’ve ever had to call my tiny spatula into service, which was most satisfying: I was beginning to think the poor thing was entirely useless. I forgot to put baking paper underneath the cake to catch the drips, by the way, but wiped off the excess with kitchen roll, so it wasn’t a disaster.

A few thousand Minstrels later (not really, but it felt like it), it was done. They stick unexpectedly well to the icing, which was a relief: they’re quite heavy, so I thought perhaps they’d slip off.

He was pleased, at any rate. Especially when I told him I’d over-bought on the Minstrels and there were lots left.

Slicing through Minstrels with a large knife makes one feel terribly manly. So I'm told.

Deliciousness: The dark chocolate makes this quite rich – smaller slices work better – and I overcooked the cake slightly, as I said. Still, this is a good find: an excellent all-round celebration cake that could be adapted for all sorts of occasions. If necessary, you could make the icing from a mixture of milk and dark chocolate, instead of all dark, to make it more child-friendly.

Complexity: Even without a food processor, not difficult to make. Assembly is quite tricky; make sure you have a tiny spatula on hand (or the back of a tiny spoon would probably do).

Washing-up pile: I was in such a rush I forgot to count, but seemed to go through absolutely all of my mixing bowls – quite a feat.

Casualties: I hesitate to say it, but yet another minor oven burn. I need to start wearing oven gloves permanently, I think.

Well, what a travesty that was.

I had a startlingly bright idea when I sat down to consider this week’s baking effort. How about millionaire’s shortbread, but replacing the shortbread with the softer biscuity stuff from last weekend’s lemon bars? I’ve made Nigella’s millionaire’s shortbread before, and it wasn’t too difficult, as I recall, but the soft caramel oozing between layers of hardened shortbread and cooled chocolate made it almost impossible to cut properly. The caramel kept dripping out of the side, like trying to slice an overstuffed tuna mayo sandwich when you’ve put a foolish amount of emphasis on the mayo.

The solution, I thought, was to make the shortbread softer. So I made up another batch of the lemon bar base using the same method as before, and put it in the oven. It’s the first time I’ve ever mixed-and-matched when it comes to recipes – I don’t at all have a natural sense of what can be substituted for what, so stick to the book like it’s holy writ – and I felt incredibly daring. What a terribly rebellious cook I was. Just like James Dean, only with less hair gel and more spatulas.

I wasn’t quite sure how long to cook the shortbread; for the lemon bars it’s only in the oven for fifteen minutes, but then it goes back in with the lemon topping for a further thirty-five. I kept it in for 25 minutes, in the end, and decided it looked done. But then – oh, then – came the caramel. This was supposed to be my favourite part. Condensed milk and I have a very deeply felt connection, and adding butter and golden syrup to it could only add to the experience, I was convinced. Nigella recommends melting the butter first, and then adding the condensed milk and golden syrup, and boiling the whole lot for a few minutes in the microwave. A relief, as the alternative is boiling for several hours in a pan, and I’m not sure anyone loves millionaire’s shortbread that much.

Well, I followed the instructions. I stirred manically every minute or so. And after seven minutes had gone by, I realised something had gone horribly wrong, and by ‘something’, I mean ‘the butter had curdled into cheese’. Just like with my disastrous pecan pie, remember? Except that time I seriously over-melted the butter, and this time I thought I’d been careful. Not careful enough, it seems, because instead of gloriously thickened toffee, I had a bowlful of cheesy lumps. SOB.

The toffee cheese is sad.

Since I didn’t want to waste the shortbread, I melted the chocolate anyway and spread it on top, thinking that this was quite a lot of effort to go to just to end up with chocolate biscuits. Then, one fridge spell later, it emerged that this hadn’t worked either. The shortbread was too hard. The chocolate layer was too thick. They wouldn’t even stick together long enough to cut out a square. And oh, the ruination of a whole tin of condensed milk makes me want to cry. I would’ve eaten it as it was, if I’d known.

Erm. Yummy.

Explosion of inedible crumbs.

The Other Half's DIY Millionaire's, toffee cheese inserted.

After this terrible blow to my self-esteem, next week I will be making something I’m sure I can make. Stand by for roast dinner cake. Oh yes.

(Thankfully nothing is ever truly a failure in our house: the Other Half, while admitting that the toffee had the appealing consistency of Welsh rarebit soup, still decanted half of it into ice cube trays ‘to make sweets’. He is threatening to have the rest of it on toast. You have to admire the ingenuity.)

SERIOUS about leftovers.

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