Simple Elderberry Syrup

If you go down to the woods today… you might be lucky enough to find an elder tree dripping with deep dark red elderberries. Sorry to disappoint those with a penchant for picnics and teddy bears. But on the plus side you might not have to venture as far as the woods to find these treasures. There’s a lovely old elder tree right next to my suburban garden. 

If I catch them at them earlier in the year I love to pick the elderflowers and make homemade elderflower cordial.  I’d love to make elderflower champagne but I’m a bit worried about exploding bottles. I need to learn to live a little closer to the edge before I attempt it.

This year I missed out on the elderflowers so I was determined to get my hands on the berries.

Elderberries are absolutely chock a block with antioxidants, which give our immune systems a massive boost. So making a syrup now and digging into it over the autumn and winter months is a great way to help ward off colds and flu.

A word of caution with these berries – you really have to cook them or you might risk an upset tummy.  When raw these little berries are obnoxiously sour so you’d probably want to cook them anyway – nature’s way of keeping us safe. Also make sure you discard the leaves and stalks as these can be toxic.  A little vigilance is totally worth it for the sweet elixir you end up with.

This syrup is made with sugar but you could absolutely make it with honey, which would also cram in yet more healthy delights. I added a couple of slices of fresh ginger and a couple of cloves and the result is that the finished syrup is slightly reminiscent of cola. So when my youngest was under the weather a couple of days ago he slurped down his ‘medicine’ no questions asked. If you prefer, keep it simple and just go with the berries and sweet stuff.

You could use this as a cordial, drizzle over greek yoghurt or vanilla ice cream, add a dash to a cocktail or simply down a small shot when you feel your body needs a helping immune boosting hand.

Simple Elderberry Syrup

Ingredients

  • 500g elderberries
  • 400g sugar
  • The juice of a lemon
  • Optional flavour enhancers: a couple of slices of ginger and a couple of cloves

Method

  • First and foremost make sure you remove all of the stalks and leaves from the berries as these are toxic. Also discard any green berries.
  • You can gently pull the berries off the stalks or use a fork. I really like the fork method, which also cuts down on the staining of your fingers.
  • Give the berries a wash.
  • Tip them into a pan and cover with water (the water should be about 1cm over the berries). Add your ginger and cloves if you are using them. Simmer for about 15 minutes.
  • Take the pan off the heat and leave to cool slightly.
  • Now strain through a sieve. Pour the liquid back into the pan along with the lemon juice and sugar. Simmer over a low heat for about 10 minutes.
  • Once cooled you can either bottle this and keep in the fridge or, to make it last even longer, freeze in ice cube trays.

Banana Breakfast Smoothie

Bananas are perfect for delivering that much needed energy boost first thing in the morning.

My kids are going back to school soon and I predict a struggle in the morning. They’ve not had to rise from their beds before 9am since March! So a quick and easy smoothie will be just the ticket for a quick brekky before bolting out the door.

All of my children have hearty (that’s putting it mildly) appetites but if there are any first day back butterflies it might be easier to stomach a fruity drink than a hearty meal.

You can use any kind of milk for this: coconut, soya, cows milk, whatever you have in the fridge really. I added about a tablespoon of honey but to be honest it was a little too sweet for me. Just go with what you fancy.

I would hugely recommend a teeny bit of cinnamon and if I was using cows milk I might add a 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste or extract.

Banana Breakfast Smoothie

Makes 4 glasses

Ingredients

  • 500ml coconut milk (or whatever kind if milk you favour)
  • 2 ripe yellow bananas
  • A tablespoon of honey (optional)
  • A pinch of cinnamon (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste or extract (optional)

Method

  • Put all of your ingredients into a blender and whizz until smooth.

Luscious Lemon Layer Cake

Yesterday I asked my eldest son what kind of cake he would like me to bake. I always hold my breath sightly when I ask this as my kids often come up with some pretty inventive cake ideas.

After a little thought he asked for a lemon cake. Specifically a round lemon cake with a crunchy lemon drizzle topping with lemon curd in the middle.

With a smile of relief I thought I had all the ingredients at home but it turned out I only had a drop of lemon curd left. It was pouring with rain and frankly I couldn’t be bothered going to the shops so I also added a layer of clotted cream, which turned out to be absolutely delicious and the perfect match to the cake’s citrus burst.

This is a wonderfully zingy crunchy lemon cake the like of which I’ve never had before. I’ll definitely be making this again and again…

Luscious Lemon Layer Cake

Recipe

Ingredients

  • 210g self raising flour
  • 25g cornflour
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 225g room temp butter
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon lemon extract
  • 3 tablespoons of milk

For the lemon drizzle

  • The juice of 1 lemon
  • 80g granulated sugar

For the filling

  • 3 tablespoons of lemon curd
  • If you like add cream or butter cream too

Method

  • Preheat your oven to 180 C / gas 4. Grease 2 x 20cm round cake tins and line the bases.
  • Put the flour, sugar and cornflour into a food processor and blitz to combine.
  • Now just chuck in the rest of the ingredients and whiz until combined.
  • Pour and scrape the cake mixture into the prepared tins and smooth over the tops.
  • Bake for 25 minutes until the cake is golden and a skewer comes out of the cakes clean.
  • Leave the cakes in their tins to cool a little (about 10 minutes) and then turn one cake out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Leave the other cake in its tin.

For the drizzle:

  • Just mix together the sugar and lemon juice. Take the cake that is still in its tin and prick it all over with a fork. Gently pour over the drizzle mixture and leave to cool in the tin on the wire rack.
  • Once both cakes are cool take the bottom cake layer (the one without the drizzle) and place on a plate or cake stand. Spread with the curd and, if you’re using it, the cream and pop the crusty topped cake on top.

Sumptuous Bannoffi Pie

I don’t have to tell you that banoffi pie (banana / toffee) is already oozing with sweet, bronzed caramel so there’s really no requirement for additional caramel in any shape or form. Well, that’s easy for me to say as I confess that I am not overly keen on caramel.

However, I live in a house of rabid caramel adorers to whom there is no such thing as too much caramel. So as I was finishing this sweet treat off with an elegant grating of quality chocolate, along came my son with some chopped up chunks of Cadburys Caramel. It was declared a triumph by all.

If you have a delection for sweet sweet confection you simply have to make this pie. If you did want to tone the sweetness down a notch you could stir a pinch of salt into your caramel and of course go right ahead and omit the chocolate caramel decoration.

Sumptuous Banoffi Pie

Ingredients

  • 250g digestive biscuits
  • 125g butter, melted
  • 1 can (397g) or jar of caramel
  • Optional pinch of sea salt
  • 2 – 3 bananas
  • 300ml of double cream
  • About 20g chocolate, grated
  • 1 – 2 bars of chocolate enrobed caramel

Method

  • First of all pop your biscuits in a large bag and crush them with a rolling pin until your have nice fine crumbs.
  • Mix them with the melted butter then tip them into a 20cm pie dish or springform tin. Press them down firmly with the back of a metal spoon. Chill in the fridge for 10 minutes.
  • If you have opted for the salted version, mix the sea salt into the caramel. Pour your caramel over the cool biscuit base and spread out gently so you have an even layer.
  • Slice your bananas and scatter them over the caramel.
  • Whip your double cream until it forms soft peaks. Spoon on top of the waiting pie.
  • Finally sprinkle over your chocolately adornments.
  • Chill, preferably for at least a couple of hours, before devouring.

Light & Fluffy Scones

These scones are so light and fluffy they are cloud-like, they are probably what angels eat for afternoon tea. Add some lightly whipped cream and a jewel-like spoonful of ruby red jam and I could feasibly be in heaven.

For me scones are the ideal goodie on any day of any season, but the lightness of these does rather make them ideal for a Summer afternoon tea treat in the garden.

While I am no stranger to the joy of baking I’m no expert on its alchemy. The magical chemistry behind using just the right of amount of each surprisingly plain ingredient to conjure up the tastiest of morsels remains largely a mystery.

But what I have found when making scones is that the less I mix and handle the dough the lighter the scone. I also recently discovered extra fine self raising flour which has resulted in not only angelic scones but impressively well risen sponges (not something I can always attest to). It’s more expensive than your everyday self raising flour but I’d say a worthy investment.

Serve these with your favourite jam and, if it’s Summer, a couple of ripe strawberries. You can’t beat a dollop of clotted cream but on this occasion I happened to have some double cream in the fridge, which I lightly whipped at the last minute as the kids were complaining about the absence of clotted cream (honestly!). No cream? Just jam is delightful or a light spread of butter.

Light & Fluffy Scones Recipe

I usually make 8 – 10 depending on the size of cutter

Ingredients

  • 225g self-raising flour (or extra fine SR flour)
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons of caster sugar
  • 70g chilled butter, diced
  • 150ml milk

Method

  • Preheat your oven to 230 C / 210 C fan / gas 8
  • Lightly butter a baking sheet
  • Sift your flour and baking powder into a large bowl, then stir in the sugar
  • Plop in your diced, chilled butter and rub it into the flour until it looks like breadcrumbs.
  • Make a well in the middle of the breadcrumb like mix and pour in the milk. Start to mix the flour into the liquid with a metal spoon. Once it is all mixed you should have a lovely soft dough. If it’s too sticky add a little more flour.
  • Lovingly tip your dough onto a floured surface and gently pat out to a thickness of about 2cm. Cut the scones into rounds and place on the baking tray.
  • You will have to reform your dough and pat out again to continue cutting the scones, until you have used up all of the dough.
  • Now pop the tray of scones in the oven and bake in the middle of the oven for 12 minutes. At this point your scones should be gloriously risen and golden brown. If they are not quite perfect just leave them for another 2 – 3 minutes.
  • Remove from the oven and allow them to cool on a wire rack. In my opinion they are best eaten when still slightly warm… who could wait any longer.

Banana & Sunken Chocolate Cake

Within an hour of writing my last blog post for fluffy banana pancakes I made this cake. Auto suggestion or potassium deficiency? Hard to say.

This cake is delicious, quick and easy – the perfect threesome in my kitchen. It’s the kind of cake you look forward to with a cuppa mid afternoon, not too fancy but still a little bit indulgent. I made it to use up a couple brown bananas which were lurking on my counter top but I fancied something less worthy than a banana loaf. Hello sunken chocolate chunks.

This would be just as fabulous with dark chocolate (my kids aren’t keen) or white chocolate (I’m not keen) or indeed a mixture of dark, white and milk.

Banana & Sunken Chocolate cake Recipe

Ingredients

  • 125g butter
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 2 large bananas, mashed
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 175g self-raising flour
  • 150g milk chocolate, chopped into chunks

Method

  • Before you start, heat your oven to 180 or 170 fan / gas mark 4. Grease and line a round cake tin, preferably with a loose bottom for easy release later on.
  • Melt your butter, then remove from the heat and whisk in the sugar.
  • Next mix in the mashed banana and vanilla before whisking in the eggs one at a time.
  • Add half the flour and mix well, then mix in the rest of the flour and the chocolate chunks.
  • Scrape into the waiting tin and bake for 40 minutes. Check that the cake is golden and a skewer comes out clean (if it doesn’t, just pop it back in the oven and check every 5 minutes).
  • Leave to stand on a cooling rack for a while before turning out.