Not only is Christmas nearly upon us, but my husband and I have also just moved in to a new house. In fact, I just did the final walk-through and turned in the keys on the old apartment this morning. And then I came home and threw myself in to the kitchen. I’ve been baking all afternoon. And my feet are killing me.

The week before we moved, Jim said he wanted to bake (or, wanted me to bake) something to take to our new neighbors’ houses by way of introducing ourselves and making a favorable impression. I said I’d think about what we could do, and we’d do it just before Christmas (giving ourselves a couple of weeks to move in before having to throw ourselves on the neighbors too). Well this past Sunday it snowed bucketsful, and Jim got the chance to meet and introduce himself to the men of the neighborhood (they were all out shoveling together). An hour or so later, the doorbell rang and it was our neighbor-on-the-diagonal on the doorstep, with a basket of holiday desserts (2 of everything: decorated snowmen and Christmas-tree cookies, brownies, and chocolate chip cookies). Now, I’m a firm believer in never returning an empty goody basket, so I immediately started thinking about what to fill the basket with for returning it. I suppose I could have made cookies, or brownies, but clearly my neighbors already had made these things, and probably had some for themselves too. Or, like us, had received plenty of chocolate chip cookies and other sweet snacks from friends, family, and neighbors.

I don’t know how I thought of it at first, but the answer quickly came to me: homemade blueberry muffins. Specifically, the recipe Nigella gives in her book How to Be a Domestic Goddess.
photo by Rachel

I decided we couldn’t make muffins only for the neighbors who’d already sent something over; we should also take muffins to the neighbors on either side of our house, some whom we have met and some of whom we haven’t. So that would be three batches of Nigella’s blueberry muffins, correct?

Well, might as well make four batches. We should have some for ourselves too.

More thoughts about blueberry muffins (and the recipe itself) after the jump.

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I made this a while ago but had to wait to post it, in case it seemed to my readers, few though they are, that I had been doing nothing but baking. Which was, in fact, true. I had been doing nothing but baking for about a week.

Nigella Lawson calls this “My Mother-in-Law’s Madeira Cake,” but this isn’t my mother-in-law’s recipe, so I can’t call it “my mother-in-law’s madeira cake”; so I call it “Nigella’s Mother-in-Law’s Madeira Cake” and that name encapsulates, to some extent, the nostalgic, homey recipe-sharing-ness that is Nigella’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess.

Madeira cake doesn’t have any madeira in it, but could be served with a glass of madeira as a rich but light dessert. It is, as far as I can tell, a glorified pound cake, rich, with a heavy crumb, and very buttery. Nigella’s recipe is also very lemony, so if you are not a huge fan of lemon, feel free to tone down the amount of juice you use in your batch.

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photo by Rachel




My problem with these breads, or cakes, is that the first time I try them, they always come out flat and, honestly, lacking. I’m not sure why that is, unless I’m somehow being timid with the ingredients. My grandmother has proved that at least with flowers, the more sure you are with them, the better they do. The first time I made Nigella’s banana bread, for example, it came out flat and tough; the second time, it was airy and moist. Go figure. So my madeira cake came out a bit flat on top and heavy; maybe next time it will be a light, airy, moist masterpiece?

At least give it a try, and if you perfect it, let me know?




Nigella’s Mother-in-Law’s Madeira Cake

1 cup softened unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
3 large eggs
1 1/3 cups self-rising cake flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
9×5 inch loaf pan, buttered and lined with parchment or wax paper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cream the butter and 3/4 cup sugar, and add the lemon zest. Add the eggs one at a time with a tablespoon of flour for each. Then gently mix in the rest of the flour and, finally, the lemon juice. Pour batter into preprared pan. Sprinkle with sugar (about 2 tablespoons should do it) as it goes into the oven, and bake for 1 hour or until a cake tester come out clean. Remove to a wire rack, and let cool in the pan before turning out.

Makes 8-10 (generous!) slices.

When I was little, I was always confused by snickerdoodles — why are they called snickerdoodles when they have nothing to do with the Snickers candy bar or doodling? The most I’ve been able to figure out is that “snickerdoodle” is a corruption of a very long German word (aren’t they all?) meaning “snail dumpling,” or has roots in the Dutch word also for “snail.” Looking at Nigella’s snickerdoodles, which don’t look a whit like the kind you can buy in American bakeries or groceries today, I see and accept that as the root for the name “snickerdoodle.” They have a dumpling-ish, snail-ish appearance.

This is the text of Nigella’s recipe from How to Be a Domestic Goddess, p. 58.

1 2/3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup plus 2 Tablespoons sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon cinnamon
2 baking sheets, lined with parchment or wax paper

“Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

“Combine all the flour, nutmeg, baking powder, and salt, and set aside for a moment.

“In a large bowl, cream the butter with the 1/3 cup of sugar until light in texture and pale in color, then beat in the egg and vanilla. Now stir in the dry ingredients until you have a smooth, coherent mixture. Spoon out the remaining sugar and the cinnamon onto a plate. Then, with your fingers, squeeze out pieces of dough and roll between the palms of your hands into walnut-sized balls. Roll each ball in the cinnamon-sugar mixture and arrange on the prepared baking sheets.

“Bake for about 15 minutes, by which time they should be turning golden brown. Take out of the oven and leave to rest on the baking sheets for 1 minute before transfering to a wire rack to cool.”

Should make about 32.

I dutifully made the dough into regularly-sized balls, but I had expected that during baking they might flatten a little, become, you know, a typical cookie shape. This was before I knew that “snickerdoodle” might have its roots in the word “snail-shaped.” The dough expanded and the balls cracked a little, but they stayed round. I didn’t know at first this was how they were supposed to be, but a bit of internet searching produced pictures from other bakers whose end product was the same golden brown spheres I had ended up with.

Next time: Flattening the balls of unbaked dough a little when arranging on the baking sheets, so they are slightly more like cookies. Also, using half the cinnamon and maybe an extra tablespoon of sugar. These turned out to be quintessentially British cookies, full of spice and great with a glass of milk or cup of coffee, but Jim’s tastebuds are more American and crave a higher ratio of sugar.

Before baking

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After baking — See? Like snails.

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photos by Rachel

This recipe is in the “Children” section of the book, but I have found that they are as much if not more popular among the adults at a party than the kids.

Recipe text from How to Be a Domestic Goddess, page 223.

“If you’ve ever eaten Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, you’ll recognize these homespun versions of them. And if you discount melting the chocolate (which in any case the microwave can do) there is no cooking involved. You may think that seeing how the dough is made — just peanut butter, butter, and sugar — might put you off eating them. Sadly not.

For the base:
scant 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 1/3 cups confectioners’ sugar
scant 1/4 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter

For the topping:
7 ounces milk chocolate
4 ounces dark chocolate
1 tablespoon unsalted butter 

1 9-inch square pan, greased

 “Stir all the ingredients for the base together until smooth. I use the paddle attachment to my mixer which my children love operating, but a bowl and a wooden spoon will do the job just as well. You will find, either way, that some of the dark brown sugar stays in rubbly, though very small, lumps, but don’t worry about that. Press the sandy mixture into the brownie pan and make the surface as even as possible.*

“To make the topping, melt the chocolates and butter together (in a microwave for ease, for a minute or two on medium) and spread on the base. Put the pan in the refrigerator to set. When the chocolate has hardened, cut into small squares** — because, more-ish as it undeniably is, it is also very rich.”

 Makes approximately 48.***

 

*I use my hands and a pair of rubber gloves for this, because the mixture is sticky and between the peanut butter and the greased pan, very oily at room temperature.
**Here’s the trick I learned after the first disastrous batch. Put the pan in the refrigerator to set. Once it has set, take it out and let it sit in a cool place on the kitchen counter, then once it has come close enough to room temperature to be cut smoothly with a sharp knife, cut in to your squares. Then return the pan to the fridge to allow the chocolate to re-set, this time cut in to squares. When the chocolate has hardened again, the individual squares should pop right out. We use a silicon 9×9 pan, so it is even easier to pop them out. If you cut the squares while the chocolate is hard, the chocolate will break unevenly and separate from the peanut butter base. If you let it warm a little first, it will cut like a dream.
***I make 36. It’s easier to partition out the pan that way, in quarters, then each quarter again in to ninths.