How It All Began

It all started nearly 40 years ago, with two books. 

Before I go any further I must add that I hadn’t actually realised this until, listening to Aleena Naylor discussing old cookery books on BBC Radio Derby a few months back, I suddenly realised that my cookie obsession had started as a toddler, with those two books. So thanks Aleena, for making me understand where Quirky Cookies really began!

I had always loved baking as a little girl, and was usually to be found in the kitchen with my Nan when we visited.  Mum was always baking too, and whereas my Nan taught me to bake scones and cakes I can trace my obsession with unusually shaped biscuits back to rainy days in the kitchen with my Mum, and those books.

Many years later my love of baking had remained and I made my first wedding cake for my own wedding in 1991.  I was all set for a career in education policy when in 1997, aged just 27 and with an 8 month old baby, our world came crashing down when I was seriously injured in a car crash.  For many years I was unable to do very much at all, and at one stage I was told I would never work again, but with the support of my friends & family I never gave up.  Eventually, following a change of treatment when we moved to Derbyshire in 2007, I started to get better, and that’s when the idea of Quirky Cookies and Cakes started to form in my mind.

Although I’d always done well in any cake competition I had entered, (winning my first prize as a child in 1979) the turning point came in June 2008.  I was quite nervous about my first entry in a WI Home Economics competition since in the weeks running up to Derbyshire County Show I had received dire warnings about the super-high judging standards from my WI friends! 

First prizes for both my cupcakes and iced biscuits (which were part of our co-operative display, above) gave me a huge boost in my confidence and I decided then and there that I would try to make a living from baking.

It took another year of researching suppliers and testing out my recipes before I felt ready to launch the business at the end of June 2009.  Here’s me at our first event – Duffield Carnival – our village fête and still one of my favourite events.

Our cookies and cakes are still homemade with a huge amount of care and attention to detail, and the whole family are now involved in the business.  My chemist husband Jason is fabulous at precision mixing royal icing colours.  Hannah is great at making cupcakes & rocky road and is an expert packer, and young Emily helps with sticking labels onto bags and boxes. Even my parents and my Aunt & Uncle have been known to help out when we are attending the larger and busier events such as the recent fabulousplaces Christmas Market.

We’ve come a long way already, and are looking forward to another exciting year in 2011.  First though, is a rather exciting snippet of news……we can’t say too much, but why not watch Market Kitchen’s Big Adventure on the Good Food Channel (Sky 249, Sky HD 283 Virgin 260)  – 7pm every day this week….you never know who might pop onto your screens!

Fresh From The Oven – Chelsea Buns

I’ve been dipping in and out of the Fresh From the Oven group for a while now, and am thrilled to be hosting the October challenge.  Here’s the recipe I’ve suggested.  Why not have a go too?

I’ve got fabulous memories of making these during a school cookery lesson aged about 13, which, incidentally, is the age of my eldest daughter now. It was the first time I’d made a yeasted recipe on my own, and I had an amazing sense of achievement having finished them. It wasn’t as if I didn’t cook at home – I was always in the kitchen helping my mum or my nan, but it was the satisfaction of having made a family favourite, all by myself, that I still remember today.

When I was thinking about which recipe I would use I looked at my old school cookery lesson recipe and Liz Herbert’s excellent book Bread, which is published by Simon & Schuster for the Women’s Institute (of which I am a proud member). The following recipe is a combination of the two. I hope you have as much fun making them as I did.

PS The final addition of the icing was a request from the children!

Chelsea Buns

225g (8oz) strong white bread flour

25g (1oz) caster sugar

¼ tsp salt

25g (1oz) softened butter – this is for the dough

1 ½ tsp fast action dried yeast

1 medium egg, beaten

90ml (3 fl oz) warm semi-skimmed milk

25g (1 oz) butter really softened, but not melted – this is for the filling

65g (2 ½oz) light muscovado sugar

115g (4oz) dried fruit

Method

Combine the flour, sugar, salt and yeast into a mixing bowl (I used my KitchenAid as usual). Make a well in the centre and add the softened butter, egg and milk. Mix to make a soft dough.

Knead until smooth. It’s at this point I remember how much I love my KitchenAid, and make myself a coffee.

Cover and prove until doubled in size. I find that if I’m in a hurry the airing cupboard can do this in around half an hour, and I’ve had no adverse side effects from quick proving so far.

Generously butter and line a 7″ square tin. Make sure it’s not a loose bottomed one, or you’ll get problems later on and loose your filling.

Flour your work surface, and roll out the dough, (no need to knock it back) to a rectangle measuring about 12 x 9 inches. If you get the edges as square as you can it will help to make your buns look even, but I quite like the squiffy homemade look. Well, that’s my excuse and I’m damn well sticking to it!

Spread the softened butter as evenly as you can over the dough. Sprinkle the sugar and the dried fruit on top, and gently press it into the butter.

Now, roll up the dough along the long edge, as though you were making a Swiss Roll (and don’t tell me you haven’t!) Seal the edge. I find that smoothing it down with the flat side of a paring knife can help here, but don’t get too ocd over this bit.

Turn the roll over so that the seal is underneath and divide the roll into 9 equal buns.

Place the buns, cut side down, into the buttered and lined tin, and leave to prove until the dough has doubled in size, and they have all joined together into one big Chelsea Bun muddle.

I baked mine in a 180° oven, for about 15 minutes, but I’ve got a particularly hot and fast cooking oven. You know your oven better than I do, and I suspect most of you will need to set the oven slightly higher, and /or cook for a little longer. Some recipes suggest covering the buns with parchment or foil, but the fan is so strong in my oven this has never worked for me.

Once cooked, cool on a wire rack, and eat them as soon as you dare. Or, of course, if you’re my kids, cover them in icing first.