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Clafoutis was the first cake I ever made. It was 2009. Starting this blog in March of that year meant I had been growing slowly but surely in kitchen confidence and about ready to tackle something that involved frightening things like flour and baking powder and measurements. 

Sometime around the day she demystified quiche for me, my great friend Jocelyn introduced me to the idea of a clafoutis. She had grown up with it as her mother’s staple dessert (much like the pavlova in my own home) and explained that there wasn’t really much to it. It involved hardly any measuring at all, in fact.

Three and a half years on and, although measuring stuff still makes me nervous (it’s the Maths, you see) I do feel I’ve come a long way from making my first Clafoutis.

In saying that, isn’t it great to revisit old favourites with a new sense of confidence? When my Mum and Niall’s Mum, Niall’s Nanny and Niall’s sister came over to ours for afternoon tea yesterday, I whipped up this classic cherry clafoutis without hardly breaking a sweat.

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I’m going to come clean with you. To call this recipe a “bread” is really a bit of a stretch. In truth, it’s a full-on sugar-loaded decadently-brilliant-with-tea cake.

I found this recipe a month or two back and followed it right down to the pecan crumble. Since then, I have experimented with it using an all walnut crumble, a hazelnut crumble, and a mixture of both. I’ve also replaced the banana in the cake with grated carrot, and it worked an absolute treat. I shared the walnut crumble recipe in this weekend’s Naughty or Nice column in The Irish Independent, as my naughty nutty recipe to match Aoife Barry’s Cinnamon Roasted Cashews.

In the interest of full disclosure, it’s a bit fussy to make. But only due to the fact that you need, like, five different dishes for the mixing and whisking and mashing that it entails. Not at all difficult, but I would recommend you read the recipe carefully before getting stuck in, so you’re prepared for the different stages and have all of your tools ready. The result is a light and fluffy cake, easily enjoyed at practically any time of the day. Homnomnom.

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This may not be a quest that Harry or Hermione might find of great import but in our house The Quest For The Perfect Pancake is a grave one indeed. Myself and Niall have climbed great metaphorical batter mountains in search of the perfect and most fluffiest of pancakes. What a journey it has been, full of displays of great stomach strength and the loosening of jean belts, aided by the pancake tales to be found on the food blogosphere.

We are truly not even halfway through this delicious crusade and have yet to tinker with all types of pancakes. We did however stumble upon Deb’s Pancake 101 post quite recently and took inspiration from her in creating our fluffiest pancakes yet. It’s a more laboured recipe than usual, but this is a quest after all, and a bit of egg white whisking was not going to keep us down. The results were certainly the best we’ve attained so far, being light and lush, but lacking in lift. And so we’re still on the look out for that perfect pancake.

We’re thinking this Bank Holiday weekend could be a good opportunity for another go. Got any tips for us?

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Last Saturday’s Weekend magazine in The Irish Independent saw myself and Aoife B in a battle of the baking. While she offered delightfully light and totally vegan Lemon Spelt and Coconut Cookies, I went in for the kill with a decadently rich Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake (inspired by these brownies).

We also mentioned the fabulous Waterford Food Festival happening from the 12th to the 15th of April and our foodies to follow were @ACheeseBoard and @TieDyeFiles.

Head over here for a look at the rest of the Weekend’s food section, which includes some delicious recipes from baking legend Mary Berry and a review of Il Secreto by Paolo Tullio.

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Or should that be a cakey bread? This was a lovely little loaf that I put together over the weekend, inspired by this recipe but making a few little adjustments here and there to it.

The result is definitely more of a cake than a bread, with the syrupy oranges adding an amazing sweetness and the cardamom giving it an intriguingly subtle spiciness. It was also wonderously simple to put together so maybe keep it in mind the next time you have a few sad looking bananas lying around the fruit bowl. Definitely a fabulous way for a banana to go.

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Before Christmas, I had been tweetering about my lack of grace when it came to baking. I was on the look out for simple, fool-proof recipes that might help build up my confidence when it came to cakes.

Sinead Ryan (@sineadryan) came to my assistance by emailing me her tried and tested recipe for a Tunisian Almond and Orange cake. She had made it for many a dinner guest and promised that it always turned out delectable.

I have since made this cake about seven times, and each time it has turned out without a snag and barely a pearl of sweat sweeping my brow. It’s a very straight-forward and simple cake, with a devastatingly sweet yet easy-to-make citrus syrup to drizzle over the top. It genuinely tastes better the day after baking which makes it extra brilliant if you’re cooking for a crowd and want to get the dessert well out of the way!

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Cheesy Sentimental Scones – not just for Valentine’s Day.

I’m the kind of tiresome dunderhead that decries the notion of Valentine’s Day as being a commercially-charged farce, yet, if poor old Niall didn’t get me anything on the day itself he’d be in serious trouble. Talk about mixed messages.

What I don’t like about Valentine’s Day is the idea that couples have to be reminded to do something nice for their special someone once a year. I wouldn’t like to be in a relationship that I never got any random treats out of (I live for treats, after all). I don’t like the way it can make single people feel either, which can range from rage to disgust.

I do, however, like recognising it as another day of the year to give your loved one(s) a little treat. It would feel weird to let it pass by without a little exchange of treats. I’m not quite sure if that makes me a hypocrite or a twit, or just a big softie underneath my tough exterior*.

I usually wake up earlier than Niall on Valentine’s Day so I can make some toast and slather it with honey and a sprinkling of cinnamon and cut it into heart shapes, then bring it up to him for breakfast in bed. He’ll get me some flowers – not roses – or nice chocolates – not Roses – and we’ll make each other horribly-drawn homemade cards.

This year, inspired by Instagram photos of homemade heart-shaped scones by Yvonne from Hey Pesto! I got up early this morning to sneak downstairs and start baking before Niall got up. The result of my pyjama-clad efforts were some Cheesy Sentimental Scones. Have a look at the recipe after the jump if you’re searching for a savoury treat for your loved ones today. Or even if you’re just into scones, rather than Valentine’s Day.

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My perfectly imperfect wholemeal and almond cake.

I’ve said quite a few times on this blog that I can’t bake. That I was more of a cook, and that the science behind baking flat out freaked me out.

Well. I was being silly. The main reason why I “couldn’t” bake was because of my stinking attitude.

I have finally realised that of course I can bake. Now, it’s highly unlikely that I would ever make a living from the things that I bake. But I can still bake. You don’t have to be a science boffin to get a bit of flour together. And putting up a mind block about it certainly doesn’t help.

This revelation came along at the same time as my recent epiphany of You’re Not On Masterchef, Aoife. The point is, cooking and baking should be fun. So what if your cake turns out lopsided? If it’s a complete disaster, it’s certainly annoying when you have to throw it all away but…is it really the end of the world?

I’ve realised that, actually, there is no great mystery to baking. That old saying of you can either bake or you can cook is unhelpful and untrue. Like anything else, you can pretty much get the hang of it with a little bit of practice. Again, you might not be brilliant at it, but you can certainly give it a go.

So, yes. I’m feeling very zen about my baking future for 2012. And in honour of that, I’d like to point you in the direction of a wonderful wholemeal and almond cake from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Every Day cookbook. I made it recently and was wooed by its simplicity and deliciousness. Definitely a good cake for fledgling bakers who aren’t into fuss.

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They say you’re either a baker or a cook. Thus far, I would always have classed myself in the cook category. I am not very mathematical, which I feel goes a long way to hinder the sponginess of my sponges and the crumbliness of my pies.

However, I’m starting to come around to the idea that you can do anything in the kitchen. Anything at all. As long as you’re not that fussy about the results, that is.

Baking in my kitchen has in the past been very stressful scene, all piles of flour and wretched-looking spatulas splattered across the floor. The last few times I’ve baked, however, a realisation, nay, a revelation, has slowly dawned on me.

I am not a Masterchef contestant.

If my cake doesn’t turn out, I will not get eliminated.

Yes, it will be frustrating if my cake flops, but really the only person I’ll be letting down is myself. My friends and family will be understanding and no one misses a cake or a loaf that they’ve never tasted. Am I right?

As this has sunk in, my calmness approaching baking has risen. So what if the cakes I make look a bit worse for wear and my cupcakes are dangerously lopsided? If they taste good, it’s a job well done in my book.

It was with this in mind that I approached these Carrot and Cream Cheese Cupcakes. Let me tell you, they were a delight to make and they came out a dream. Lovely and moist, sweet and sumptious, and very lopsided indeed.

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Lemon Drizzle Cake served up on my Me Auld China cake stand

Regular readers of this blog will know that baking scares the bejaysus out of me. I’m determined to rid myself of this cursed baking fear, and my dream is to be able to approach sponge and fairy cake batters without trepidation.

I’m slowly building up my confidence by picking one baking recipe and practicing it until I can make it without falling to a heap on the kitchen floor, denouncing flour and all its fickleness.

Lynda Booth of Dublin Cookery School’s Double Ginger Cake was the first cake I mastered. And by mastered I mean I’ve made it numerous times now and only once was it inedible.

Nessa Robin’s basic scone recipe has held my hand through many a trial (and error) scone batch.

In the last month, I’ve made Donal Skehan’s Lemon Drizzle cake four times, and each time it has worked a dream. It’s a great little recipe perfect for those with Bakeaphobia like myself, and I’ve published it after the jump with Donal’s full blessing.

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