Too hot to bake ….

Raspberry and white chocolate cake

The South East has been very hot for the last 5 days. Trying to bake in this heat is difficult – cakes don’t rise as much, buttercream icing melts and I feel as if I’m working in a sauna. However, at least I’m not a dog or cat wearing a fur coat!

Since lockdown has eased, I have been baking again for The Earl Grey Tearoom in Southborough and business has been good. After all, why not treat yourself when so many other pleasures have disappeared. I have also been baking cakes for other customers who want a whole cake for a birthday or other celebration.

I have also been making chutney and jam – today it is strawberry jam which I use in the Victoria sponge. This is perhaps not the best pastime for such a hot day but it keeps me out of the sun. The chutneys were for Southborough Butchers – if you are local to Southborough, pop in and buy a jar from them. Jams can be bought directly from me – contact me via message or email and I’ll let you know which are in stock.

Thankfully, it has been easier to buy the basic ingredients for all the foods I make, although supply is still a little erratic. Icing sugar seems to disappear off the shelves very quickly so I have to bulk buy but flour and eggs are there every week now. Who knows what will happen in the autumn but for now, I will carry on making what I can when I can, making the most of the fruit harvest.

Thank you for reading

Life in lockdown part 1

We are now into week 7 of lockdown and life has changed for everyone, for the better in some ways but not all.

I am very lucky that I didn’t have to rely on the small amount of money I used to make from selling homemade cakes and preserves as this has largely dried up. My husband has been working from home for the past 8 weeks and this is likely to continue for a while yet. My children are both in further education and are having to rely on the internet for remote lectures but who knows what will happen after their courses finish in a few months.

A few people have contacted me direct and I have been making cakes for their events (all local) and I have restocked the local butcher with chutney. The tearoom stayed open initially for takeaways but had to close at the start of lockdown. Hopefully, they can partially reopen soon although who knows how long it will be before people will be able to sit in for a meal or just a coffee.

Thankfully, I do not know anyone who has been badly affected by the virus and I hope it remains that way. I am also very glad I do not have to travel to work on public transport or go places where social distancing is difficult. My dog has enjoyed (most of the time!) having a long walk every day and I have enjoyed being able to take time to watch spring arrive, to do more work than usual in my garden and to finally get around to projects like finishing knitting another Aran jumper. I have even dusted off my sewing machine and have made face masks for my sister’s work force and some scrubs for a local group of volunteers.

I have got to know a few more of the neighbours and have enjoyed the community spirit shown on Thursday evenings during the ‘Clap for the NHS, carers and key workers’. (Remember when it was dark for the first one, pre BST Summertime? That makes it feel even longer ago!). Let’s hope that continues when we finally come out of lockdown.

Thank you for reading and stay safe!

Open house sessions

I am planning to have three Open House sessions in the run up to Christmas when you can buy any of my preserves, cakes, biscuits and other Christmas gifts. These will be in my home, in Southborough, between 2pm and 8pm.

I will advertise the dates as soon as they are confirmed so please keep watching this blog, Facebook and Instagram. If you live in Southborough, there will also be a poster in the window.

If you would like to place an order for specific items, please contact me by email to toobusytomake@btinternet.com, by Facebook messenger on the Too busy to make page, or by Instagram at @toobusytomake.

I can now take card payments or you can still pay by cash or bank transfer.

The price list on the blog has been updated (price rises for some ingredients do mean there are a few increases). I always use good quality ingredients including organic free range eggs, organic flour and unsalted British butter.

Christmas preparations part 1

It may seem early but Christmas preparations are well under way at Too busy to make. I have a stall at the Chiddingstone Castle Christmas Fair on Saturday 23 November (10.00am to 4.00pm) so I am making various Christmas foods to sell.

This cranberry and orange compôte is not as sweet as most commercial cranberry sauces – it is made with fresh cranberries, oranges, red wine, port and spices with a small amount of sugar. It is an excellent accompaniment to your Christmas dinner and also goes well with gammon, nut roast and baked Camembert.

If you can’t get to Chiddingstone Castle on Saturday, I will be holding more open house sessions in December – dates will be available very soon.

Please keep reading these posts and if there are any foods you want to buy, get in touch by Facebook, Instagram, phone or email.

Thank you for reading

Sending gifts to Spain

This week, my son asked if I could send something homemade for him to give as gifts to people he has been working with at a primary school in Benalmadena, near Malaga. Cakes were out of the question but biscuits seemed a possibility.

I made a batch of spiced cranberry and almond biscotti and some oat and cherry cookies and packed them in bags in a padded box and posted them last Saturday morning. They arrived at the school on Wednesday morning, which I thought was quite impressive bearing in mind it was the bank holiday weekend.

So, his Spanish colleagues can try out biscuits baked in England while I hope he will bring home some Spanish delicacies!

I rarely make Millionaires shortbread – mainly because I love it and would find it very difficult to stop myself continually testing it to make sure it was still ok. However, I made some last week as I knew I had people coming around who could help out. It is rather delicious! And if I cut it into small squares, it may not be quite so bad! I remember making this years ago and burning the caramel – maybe that’s another reason why I haven’t made it regularly. I was subconsciously protecting my saucepans.

Anyway, today has been back to baking for The Earl Grey Tearoom, making them a coffee and walnut cake, a cherry Bakewell cake and a lemon drizzle cake as well as some chocolate cupcakes and gluten free scones. And when I have a free hour or two, I need to look through recipes to find some new cakes to try. Now what would the people of Southborough like to try next?

A day off from baking

About once a week, I have a day off from baking. Today is such a day – I delivered two cakes to The Earl Grey this morning (Victoria sponge and gluten free Chocolate Fudge cake, for those that are interested) and their next order is for one on Thursday and three on Friday. I have loads to make for the Riverhill Himalayan Garden tomorrow for delivery on Thursday, so will have a long day in the kitchen.

Sometimes, my ‘day off’ is spent shopping for ingredients. I buy most from Sainsbury’s but also go to Waitrose (organic self raising flour, sugar) and Lidl (dark chocolate, limes, mascarpone and nuts). Going to three different shops does take time but I like the quality of the ingredients I use.

Sometimes, I make preserves instead. My latest is a new batch of lime marmalade which still needs labelling.

This afternoon, I am making a batch of Granola to see me through breakfast for the next month or so. Chopping the fruit takes a little time but it is worth it – toasted oats, seeds and bran with honey and groundnut oil, with dates, apricots, sultanas and toasted hazelnuts, which I have with yoghurt and fresh fruit.

Tonight I need to make 4 trays of Rocky Road so my cake tins are ready for baking tomorrow. This isn’t baking as it just requires melting, chopping and mixing followed by overnight in the fridge to set.

And then there is supper …. possibly Lebanese spinach and chickpeas, recipe courtesy of Riverford, followed by ironing (not my favourite job!).

So even on a day off from baking, there is plenty of cooking going on!

Thank you for reading.

Which is your favourite?

These two cakes have been safely delivered to the Earl Grey Tearoom in Southborough today. Which would you choose?

First, there is a Red Velvet cake with cream cheese buttercream icing to go with the cocoa flavoured red sponge, kept moist using sunflower oil and buttermilk.

Or there is a white chocolate and raspberry cake with raspberries and white chocolate baked in the sponge, iced with mascarpone and white chocolate and topped with freeze dried raspberries.

We are always looking to add new cakes to the choices available – what flavour would you like to see? Cherry and coconut? Or perhaps a chocolate mocha cake? What about cakes made with vegetables such as beetroot, courgette or parsnip?

Come along to the Tearoom, which is open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm and Saturday 9am to 4pm, and let us know which cake you would like to see available.

Keep baking

I have always enjoyed making cakes and love receiving positive feedback from people who have enjoyed eating them.

Last year, I made over 350 cakes, more than 100 cupcakes and 18 traybakes for The Earl Grey Tearoom in Southborough. The favourites there are a Victoria sponge, carrot and mascarpone, coffee and walnut, gluten free chocolate fudge, lemon drizzle, coconut and lime, white chocolate and raspberry, cherry Bakewell and blueberry and lemon. I also made 46 gluten free chocolate cakes, 42 trays of Rocky Road and 36 traybakes for The Riverhill Himalayan Garden near Sevenoaks. Around Christmas, the focus switched to Christmas cake and Panforte – and all the time, I have been making chutneys, jams, marmalades and jellies with fresh locally picked fruit or dried fruit.

One of the biggest challenges is keeping stock of the basic ingredients so I don’t have to go shopping every time a cake is ordered. So rather than buying eggs by the dozen, I usually buy 36 a week and some weeks, even this isn’t enough! I used about 1800 eggs last year, or 300 boxes of 6. I also have to keep stock of different types of flour (plain, self raising, rice, gluten free plain and gluten free self raising) and sugar (caster, golden caster, light soft brown, light muscovado, dark muscovado, Demerara and icing) not to mention baking powder and gluten free baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, cocoa powder, dark chocolate, desiccated coconut, lemons, limes and oranges. I rarely have an empty fridge or larder!

If you want a cake made for an occasion, please contact me as I am happy to help. You can contact me via this blog, or through Facebook or Instagram and we can discuss timing and price. I have a good selection of cake tins but most are 8″ round (with a few 7″ round) or any size square or rectangle (as I have a multi size cake tin, up to 12″ square). Any recipe can be resized based on the number of eggs used.

Thank you for reading.

Gluten free alternative Christmas cake

I have been making this Panforte for a few years but have slightly changed the recipe so it is now gluten free. It is also dairy free and egg free, but it contains honey so isn’t vegan.

It contains dried apricots, figs, candied peel, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts and ground almonds and has cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg to give it a wonderful Christmas flavour and scent.

I normally make them in two sizes – 300g (£6) and 800g (£12) – but can also make a larger 1200g (£18) one if required.

I have a Open House session on Thursday 6 December between 2pm and 8pm in Southborough, Tunbridge Wells (other dates and times to be advised) or you can contact me via Facebook or this blog to place an order.

Thank you for reading.

Happy Christmas!