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Birthdays and coffee walnut cake

First things first, a very happy birthday to my lovely husband (who hates to be blogged about so will refrain from saying any more here).

Well, except one thing. The cake.

I find it so challenging each year to move seamlessly from Halloween to his birthday. No matter how much I prep ahead of time, there’s always the issue of the cake (which I simply cannot bake, after a long night of trick-or-treating and merriment making!).

Here’s the goal:

Coffee and walnut cake

It’s his favorite cake in the whole world. So very British that I just can’t buy it off the shelf. It’s nothing like American coffee cake, all streuseled and cinnamon-specked. Pillsbury has no idea WTH this cake is and neither do any of our local bakeries and so I usually go with his second favorite cake in America: A fruit basket cake (a buttermilk cake filled with fresh strawberries and bananas in whipped cream). No less delicious, I might add.

But this year, oh this year. I’m going to attempt the coffee and walnut cake. Yes, it will be late. But I hope it will be worth the wait!

If it is, I’ll post the recipe I used – I’m debating between BBC and Delia Smith right now. If it’s not, well, let’s never discuss this matter again (and will bribe a baker friend next year, perhaps, willing to make a cake on Halloween night).

Perfect scones

There’s always been something tremendously daunting to me about the prospect of making scones. Maybe it has something to do with all of that butter being crumbled or cut into really small pieces. I say, life is too short to do any of that. Maybe it has something to do with cutting out triangle shapes of dough. (Way more complicated than circles, right?)

I don’t know. I can’t put a finger on it. But after a co-worker brought in some fresh baked scones, still warm and slathered with butter, I became a believer. I decided to throw caution to the wind and try to make a batch at home.

What I’ve discovered is that a cream scone recipe is infinitely easier – no butter to mix in! – and the results are light, flaky, fluffy gorgeousness. My go-to recipe comes courtesy of Epicurious.

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A weekend of baking

With the challenge of Britain’s National Baking Week set before me, this weekend I did the unthinkable: I baked.

And baked and baked and baked.

I’ll admit I was a bit rusty. I warmed up by baking brownies Saturday morning, which might have been considered cheating. I used Trader Joe’s Ready to Bake Brownies, which has to be the most user-friendly brownie mix on the market. It dulls the intelligence. Anyone capable of opening a packet, pouring contents into a greased brownie pan and sliding it into a pre-heated oven can do it. The results are fantastic, but where is the sense of accomplishment?

Brownies for dummies. And yes, you'll notice I forgot to grease the pan. This mix was made for me.

On Sunday, I made a two-layer yellow cake using a recipe I found online last week (yes, I’ve baked two weekends in a row. This might be a personal record) and then after I put the cake pans into the oven, I realized with dismay that I had promised my son I was going to make cupcakes, not a cake!

He was very brave about it and told me it was okay. We could make cupcakes another day. Which made me feel even worse and so, there began the third baking project of the weekend – cupcakes, using the same winning yellow cake recipe. In the making of this batch, I ran out of granulated sugar and was not going to make my second trip to the grocery store so I subbed the rest of the measurement with brown sugar. It ended up working out very well – moist, delicious and not too sweet. Sense of accomplishment? Oh yes!

With the lack of granulated sugar in the house, I couldn’t make the homemade chocolate frosting I had planned and I didn’t have enough butter to do a traditional buttercream so I cracked open a can of Betty Crocker cream cheese frosting and called it a day. Or rather, a weekend.

Mission accomplished.

The Great British Bake-off

Almost 4 million viewers watched the finale of The Great British Bake-Off. Photo credit: Love Productions/BBC/Vicki Couchman

Mark my words. Never get in the way of a Brit and their mixer (or whisk, cake pan or pastry bag).

Brits take their baking very seriously. While the US only has one Martha Stewart, the UK has hundreds of them, dotted in towns and villages across the country. On any given weekend, they’re churning out fairy cakes and scones for village fetes and school bake sales like they’re going out of style. And those who aren’t baking (and even those who are) are watching baking shows. Almost 4 million viewers watched The Great British Bake-Off this month. Who knew that many Brits would find fondant icing and puff pastry so riveting?

This week marks National Baking Week in the UK – a national campaign to get the uninitiated back into the kitchen to enjoy the national pastime. In that spirit, I will be baking tomorrow and will report back next week.

National Baking Week runs through Sunday so it’s not too late to join in the fun. Have a lovely weekend (in or out of the kitchen)!