Banana, Pecan & Chocolate Muffins {Soulful Baker by Julie Jones}

Muffins don't really get enough credit in the baking world. They are versatile and can carry pretty much any flavor combination you throw at it.

I have made many of banana muffins in my days, but I never added pecans and chocolate to them, nor have I ever drizzled them with maple syrup....

There were so many recipes in Soulful Baker that I want to try out, but with the kids back to school and a million other life things taking priority I stuck to a simple yet delicious bake!

Banana, Pecan & Chocolate Muffins

80g unsalted butter
300g self-rising flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
100g golden caster sugar
220ml whole milk
1 medium egg
1 tbsp maple syrup, extra to drizzle
50g dark or milk chocolate, chopped or chips
50g pecans, toasted and chopped
100g mushed bananas

Preheat the oven 180C/200C. Line a muffin tin with 8 muffin liners.
Melt the butter in a pan and leave to cool. Place pecans in the oven to toast them, keep an eye as nuts are easy to burn, if you haven't already. Sieve together the flour and baking powder, then re-sift into the bowl of a free-standing mixer. Add the sugar.
In a separate jug/bowl whisk the milk and egg together, then pour onto the flour and sugar mixture. Mix on a medium speed until just combined. Add the cooled melted butter and maple syrup, chopped chocolate, pecans, and the mashed banana. Give it a quick mix until it's just combined.
Bake for about 30 minutes in the pre-heated oven. Use the skewer test to check if they are done and leave to cool a few minutes before eating and drizzle the maple syrup over the top!

Muffins turned out perfectly and were delicious with just the right amount of dark chocolate and pecans. If this recipe isn't enough to convince you to give Soulful Baker a look go check out my review here!

Soulful Baker by Julie Jones {book review}

There is a phrase in the baking world "baked with love" and Julie Jones has put love into each and every recipe in her new book. Julie Jones is a trained chef and has worked at in a Michelin-starred kitchen, it is there that she learned how to take flavor to the next level. However, it wasn't there that she learned to love cooking and baking. It was at home with her mom.

When her mom was diagnosed with dementia she started documenting their days in the kitchen together on Instagram, where she received a lot of support and encouragement. 

We hear a lot about the dangers of the internet and how to keep safe while using it. But we forget about the support and love from around the world that can come from social media. I love Julie's story and how she found a way to capture her time with her mother, therefore when asked if I would like to review a copy of her new book, Soulful Baker, I said yes. 

It covers all the baking basics; chapters include: Fruit Tarts & Pies - Cakes, Bakes & Treats - Bread & Yeasted Dough - Chocolate - Desserts - Weekend Breakfast & Brunch. 

I shortened my list of things I must bake as I could have listed every single recipe. So, to make my life simpler I picked one recipe from each chapter that I will be added to my must bake list! 

Starting with - 

  • Strawberry & Cherry Pies
  • Celebration Cake - not just for celebration, I would want this any day of the week! 
  • Trampoline Bread or maybe the Caramel Bread (I can't decide or maybe I won't and just make both!)
  • Triple Chocolate Celebration Cake - if you are a chocolate lover you must check this recipe out! 
  • White Chocoalte Creme Brûlée Tart - I love a good Creme Brûlée, this tart is perfect for me! 
  • Banana, Pecan, & Chocolate Muffins - I already made these, they were amazing!! Check out my next post. 

It's a beautiful book. Even if you never bake anything from it, although I suggest you do as the recipes look amazing, it's worth a read. I own a lot of baking books and sometimes they start to feel all a little similar, but Soulful Baker stands out. It stands out, in my opinion, because of Julie's story. Baking gave her something to help give her positive memories and a way to cope during a difficult time.

We all have difficult times and all need something that helps get us through. Her story is inspirational and full of delicious looking recipes. 

As I said above even if you aren't a baker, get a copy of this book to read, and maybe you will be inspired to try something new it doesn't matter if you are a new or seasoned baker there is something for everyone in this book. 

*I was provided a copy of Soulful Baker by Julie Jones to review by the publisher, Jacqui Small, Retails at £20 and available now from your local book retailers or online! All opinions are my own, I was not given any other compensation nor was I asked to give a positive review, please see my contact/policy page for more information.

Spiced Pumpkin Cake

One of the books on my summer reading list was Heartless by Marissa Meyer. I read it in a day or two, I was completely taken with Lady Catherine Pinkerton, the future Queen of Hearts. We all know the end of the story, but we don't know the beginning....until now.

Catherine is a keen baker, the story opens up with her making the perfect lemon tarts. We also quickly learn of her dream of opening her own bakery, but of course being a proper lady her parents have different plans for their only daughter. 

When I was trying to figure out which delicious bake to make out of the many Catherine makes I didn't know if I should go with the lemon tarts, rose macaron's, or the climatic bake the Spiced Pumpkin Cake. 

If you want to know exactly what that means then I suggest you get a copy of this book right away and give it a read! It was an easy read and I loved being taken back to Wonderland even if it was only for a short time....well until I re-read it! 

This Spiced Pumpkin Cake turned out perfectly soft and spiced. The slight tartness of the cream cheese frosting perfectly matches the cake and as Catherine did I topped it with toasted coconut. Which did give it an extra something, she really knows how to bake. 

Spiced Pumpkin Cake

165g plain flour
115g sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2/4 salt
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground nutmeg
115g light brown sugar
225g (1/2 can) canned pumpkin
2 large eggs
150ml vegetable oil

Heat the oven to 180C and line the bottom of two 7 inches or 20cm round cake tins. 
Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, bicarb of soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg in a bowl and set aside. Beat the brown sugar and pumpkin together until combined, using a whisk or hand mixer. Add the eggs and beat until just combined, then add the oil and beat until it too is combined. Add 1/2 of the flour mixture and gently beat until combined, then add the other half and again beat until completely combined. Pour half of the batter into one prepared tin and fill the other prepared cake tin with the rest of the batter! 
Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes or until sponge comes back when gently pressed or used the skewer test. Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before taking out of the tins and leaving to cool completely before icing. 

Cream Cheese Frosting
170g cream cheese
45g unsalted butter, room temperature
170g icing sugar (plus 1-2 tablespoons)
1 tsp of vanilla extract 

Beat the cream cheese and butter together until soft and completely combined. Add the vanilla extract and the icing sugar bit by bit. I added a couple of extra tablespoons to my frosting to make it come together better. If it's too runny add a tablespoon as a time. 

to finish: 
approx. 25g desiccated coconut, toasted 

Place the first layer of the cake on a cake stand and spread half of the cream cheese frosting on top leaving a bit of room around the edge, when the top layer goes on it will smooth it out to the edge. So, go ahead and gently place the top layer on. Then put the rest of the frosting on top and spread nicely. Before covering with the toasted coconut. 
I toasted my coconut after the cakes came out of the oven, as it was already warm, by spreading about 25g of desiccated coconut on a baking sheet it only takes like 3-5 minutes so watch it! 

I'm not 100% sure this cake would stand up to the Queen's standards nor am I sure it would win any baking competitions, but it is delicious!! If you want to read more about Heartless check out my review in the previous post or linked here

Heartless by Marissa Meyer {book review}

Everyone loves a good fairytale, but it's a thing since the days of Gregory Maguire and Wicked to write all about the villain.  I have to say I'm loving the thing of villains getting their say, learning how they became the villain, but only if the villain becomes and stays a villain. Ya know what I'm saying?

And where I have a separate appreciation for tv shows/movies like Once Upon a Time and Descendants and Ever After High where the bad guys are choosing to be good and writing their own stories I can't help but feel that a really really good story is only as good as the villain.

Hero's have their own role to play, but I do like a good villain.

Heartless by Marissa Meyer

From the back cover: Long before Alice fell down the rabbit hole... And before the roses were painted red... The Queen of Hearts was just a girl, in love for the first time.

My thoughts: I couldn't help but love this book. Not only because the first chapter, well the very first page talks of the perfect lemon tarts Catherine, the future Queen of Hearts, is baking. Having enjoyed Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicle series I knew I would be surprised if I didn't like this book. Not only do we get a good idea of who the Queen once was we also get a good understanding of why she is the way she is. And I should add an understanding that makes sense unlike the wonderland she lives in. My other praise for the book is the secondary characters: Mad Hatter, Cheshire Cat, the King, the Knave of Hearts, the White Rabbit and so on were all portrayed in the best possible way to fit into the story. I was very impressed with how Marrissa Meyer was able to keep the world we know and love similar and relatable. If you like me love a good fairytale with a twist definitely give it a read! As some suggested to me make sure you have a good slice of cake ....

In fact why not make this Pumpkin Spice Cake - after reading the book you'll understand!

North: How to Live Scandinavian by Brontë Aurell

Coming from America I grew up around a lot of different heritages; even more so as I moved around to different states. In Northern Minnesota I encountered a lot of Johnson's, Olsen's, Anderson's, Peterson's, Larsen's, Christensen's and so on - all these names, although spelt differently in different areas, all come from the Scandinavian's.

A few of these names belonged to friends and some of those friends still keep some Scandinavian traditions and recipes! So, reading this book was like listening to an old friend and brought back stuff I already new about the Scandinavian world.

Brontë Aurell is Danish and not only wrote this amazing book about her culture, but also owns and runs the ScandiKitchen cafe and shop in London as well as writes cookbooks and articles for publications here in England. Needless to say she knows what she's talking about!

Speaking of cookbooks, I was first drawn to North for the recipes scattered appropriately throughout out the text, but stayed as I started to take in all there was to learn about the Scandinavian way. In the first chapter we discover exactly What is Scandinavia? Which isn't as easy to answer as one would expect. It's a bit confusing so I will let you read that chapter for yourself it's only a page....

Then we get stuck right into the chapter all about Style! It delves into how they see themselves and how others see them and how they see each other. Each other being the Danish, the Swedish, and the Norwegians. Being a foreigner it's always interesting to think about how I used to see myself and how I now look at my fellow country people. I found this chapter to be very interesting and humorous at times. Especially with the lists of "How to be more .... Danish, Swedish, Norwegian." The style chapter also covers fashion and interior decor!

We move on to my favorite chapter, the one on food, titled At the Table. Where we learn about curious Scandinavian dishes, national dishes, fika (fee-ka) which basically means to "sit down, have a chit-chat, with a coffee and something baked,"salty liquorice, and open sandwiches! As well as learning how to slice cheese properly, smörgåsbord, to drink aquavit and how to breakfast!

Life Outside is the following chapter where everything from the darkness and lightness to sports and sauna's! Being where they are they experience times of prolonged darkness and lightness and Brontë Aurell gives us great tips on how to get through, especially the winter/dark.

In the next chapter we learn how to date a Scandinavian, how to be in a relationship, as well as how kids are raised! Extremely useful if you are looking to win over a stylish coffee drinking Scandinavian!! She covers everything in Family Life including traditional Scandinavian names, it was in this text I recognised a lot of familiar names!

Culture; such a small word for such a big meaning. One of the longest and more interesting chapters in the book it covers everything that hasn't already been discussed. Common greetings, hygge (who-guh (if you were wondering how to pronounce it properly!)), Nordic mythical creatures, basic politics, and how to drink are just a few of the topics covered.

The last chapter covers Celebrations! Which tells exactly how to have a Scandinavian Christmas and Easter as well as how to celebrate Eurovision and the National days of the three countries. Midsummer or St Han Aften/St John's Eve is something we all talk about, but apparently it's a big deal over there especially in Sweden. It is always the closest Friday to the 23rd of June. I think that's an ingenious idea, no one likes a great holiday on a weekday!

If I had to take a life in the Scandinavian's test, like the Life in the UK test I had to take to stay here, I bet I would pass after reading North. This review only skims the top of the iceberg, so to speak, this book is full of interesting, fun, and informative facts for those who dream of visiting or are planning a trip! Not to forget the beautiful photography by Anna Jacobson!! 

*I was provided a copy of North: How to Live Scandinavian by Brontë Aurell to review by the publisher, Aurum Press, Retails at £20 and available now from your local book retailers or online! All opinions are my own, I was not given any other compensation nor was I asked to give a positive review, please see my contact/policy page for more information.