Simple Baking Treats


Quick and easy baking recipes this week, delicious treats to bring a smile to everyone’s face. You can whip them up in a few minutes and have fun with the kids in the kitchen.

Just a few little things to say before we get started…. It’s important to weigh ingredients accurately for baking, otherwise you may get a disappointing and inconsistent result , after all the effort your cakes and bikkies ought to be super delicious….

The quality of the ingredients you use really, really matters, of course use butter rather than margarine, both for flavour and because it’s far better for your health.

Use the best and freshest eggs you can find and pure ingredients, for example, vanilla extract rather than that vanilla essence that was never ‘next nor near’ an actual vanilla pod…. The difference in flavour is dramatic…. The real thing is far more expensive but you can actually make your own very easily using a spirit, either gin or vodka. We always have a vanilla extract bottle on the go here. Check out the recipe below.

When using orange zest, use organic fruit or else give them a good scrub before you grate the zest to wash off the many chemicals on the rind. Don’t forget my thrifty tip to dry the peels and use them for firelighters.

The correct size tin/tins can also make the difference between success and a disappointing result.

Keep an eye out in charity shops to add to your collection of different size tins. I find real treasures from time to time and always hope to discover older tins that tend to be made of heavier gauge and so give extra protection to the edges of the cake while baking.

Let’s start with popovers.  Even if you never before made anything, you can make popovers. Just whisk all the ingredients together, allow the batter to rest for a bit, then pour some into a well-oiled bun tray or  muffin tin and straight into a preheated hot oven. They will pop up magically and have a dip in the middle that can be filled with everything from raspberry jam and cream to a spoonful of that delicious marmalade you made from my recipe in last week’s column….! A special breakfast bite…dredge with icing sugar. 

Guess what and with no extra embellishment you’ve got Yorkshire puddings to serve with a roast beef dinner…Or how about a savoury version … pop a little salad into the centre instead.

Now isn’t that a little gem of a recipe and Willowzina’s cake is another that you will return to over and over again because you can do so many riffs on it. Add lemon or orange zest, coffee extract or cocoa powder…… Ice and decorate with whatever you fancy or spoon a lemon drizzle over the top. Plus it keeps well if you can manage to hide it away in an airtight tin.  

Wee buns with sprinkles are also irresistible and how about these peanut butter cookies… Finally our favourite brownies, how’s that for a baking fest to get you started… Let me know how you get on.

Wee Buns with Sprinkles

I adore sprinkles, use the colours you love most, the red and green ones are the most festive but I love them all. 

Makes 10

175g (6oz) soft butter

150g (5oz) caster sugar

3 eggs, preferably free range

175g (6oz) self-raising flour


225g (8oz) icing sugar

finely grated zest of 1 lemon

2 – 4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice


1 bun tray with 10 – 12 holes

Line the base of the tins with small muffin papers or bun cases… 

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Put the soft butter, caster sugar, eggs and self-raising flour into the bowl of a food processor. Whizz for a few seconds to amalgamate. Divide evenly between the 10 or 12 cases depending on size.  Bake in the preheated oven for 20 – 25 minutes approx. or until golden and well risen.  Cool on a wire rack.

Meanwhile make the Icing.

Sieve the icing sugar into a bowl.   Add the lemon zest and enough lemon juice to make a softish icing. Use a palette knife to spread a little icing on each bun, decorate the tops with a generous sprinkling of sprinkles. 

Willowzina’s Cake with Pistachio and Rose Petals

This is a gem of a recipe, made in minutes even without a food processor.  It can be dressed up or down in so many ways – raspberry and coconut – sounds dull but it’s super delicious.  When the cake is cold, cover the top with raspberry jam and sprinkle generously with desiccated coconut or spoon some lemon drizzle over the top.

Serves 8 – 10

175g (6oz) soft butter

150g (5oz) caster sugar

3 eggs, preferably free range

175g (6oz) self-raising flour

Lemon Glacé Icing

225g (8oz) icing sugar

finely grated zest of 1 lemon

2-4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

To Decorate:

chopped pistachios

rose petals, dried or fresh

1 x 20.5cm (8 inch) sandwich tin, buttered and floured. 

Line the base of the tin with parchment paper.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Put the soft butter, caster sugar, eggs and self-raising flour into the bowl of a food processor. Whizz for a few seconds to amalgamate and turn into the prepared tin – make a dip in the centre so it rises evenly. Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes approx. or until golden brown and well risen.

Cool in the tin for a few minutes, remove and cool on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, make the icing.

Sieve the icing sugar into a bowl.   Add the lemon rind and enough lemon juice to make a softish icing.

Once the cake is cool, pour the icing over the cake and spread gently over the sides with a palette knife. Sprinkle with coarsely chopped pistachios and dried or fresh rose petals.  Serve on a pretty plate.

Alternative Icings

Super-Fast Lemon Drizzle

Spoon the syrup over the top of the cake while it’s still in the tin just as soon as it comes out of the oven.

freshly grated rind of 1 lemon

freshly squeezed juice of 1 – 2 lemons

75g (3oz) caster sugar

Mix the ingredients for the glaze.

Chocolate Icing

A super easy chocolate icing for éclairs, cookie sandwiches or a half quantity cake. Should be enough to ice this cake but it keeps for 1 – 2 weeks covered in the fridge.  Decorate with toasted hazelnuts. 

175g (6oz) icing sugar

50g (2oz) cocoa

75g (3oz) butter

75ml (3fl oz) water

75g (3oz) caster sugar

Sieve the icing sugar and cocoa powder into a mixing bowl. Measure the butter, water and sugar into a saucepan. Set over a low heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved and the butter is melted. Bring just to the boil, then draw off the heat and pour at once into the sifted ingredients. Beat with a wooden spoon until the mixture is smooth and glossy. It will thicken as it cools. 

Coffee and Walnut Icing

Pour over the top of the cake, spread gently to the edges and allow to drip over the sides of the cake.  Decorate with half walnuts or pecans. 

450g (1lb) icing sugar

scant 2 tablespoons Irel or Camp coffee essence

about 4 tablespoons boiling water

Sieve the icing sugar and put into a bowl. Add coffee essence and enough boiling water to make it the consistency of a thick cream.

How to Make Homemade Pure Vanilla Extract

Pure vanilla extract is gorgeous but enormously expensive. You can make your own superb extract quite easily. The flavour of the vanilla is extracted by the alcohol, which in turn becomes more mellow. The vanilla pods can later be used to flavour custards, creams and mousses.

Split 3 or 4 vanilla pods lengthways, put into a 600ml (1 pint) bottle of vodka or brandy, seal tightly and leave to infuse for at least 3 days, but better still for up to 4 – 6 weeks before using. Shake occasionally. Before use, strain the liquid through a fine nylon sieve. Store in small airtight bottles. It keeps almost indefinitely.

Peanut Butter Cookies

Insanely simple cookies that I found years ago from a reader’s recipe in Gourmet magazine. Amy Fritch contributed her grandmother’s recipe.

Makes 36 – 40

225g (8oz) chunky or creamy peanut butter

175g (6oz) sugar

1 large egg, free-range and organic

1 teaspoon baking soda (Bicarbonate of soda)

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 baking trays lined with silicone paper

Preheat the oven to 180˚C/350˚F/Gas Mark 4.

Mix the peanut butter and sugar in a bowl, add 1 beaten egg, baking soda and salt and beat with a wooden spoon until combined.

Roll into balls a little smaller than a walnut. Arrange about 2.5cm (1 inch) apart on the baking tray. Flatten with a fork to about 4cm (1 1/2 inch) diameter. Bake in batches in the preheated oven for 10 – 12 minutes or until puffed and golden. Allow to cool for

2­ – 3 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack.

Store in an air-tight tin. Keeps brilliantly for 4 or 5 days.

Ruffles Chocolate Brownies

We must have at least a dozen delicious brownie recipes in our repertoire.  Florrie Cullinane, a senior tutor at Ballymaloe Cookery School shared this recipe, it was a perennial favourite in her restaurant.

Makes 24 – 36 depending on size

375g (13oz) chocolate (good quality 62% Valrhona or Callebaut)

375g (13oz) butter

6 eggs

400g (14oz) caster sugar

200g (7oz) flour

150g (5oz) chopped walnuts or hazelnuts or pecans

Tin – 35 x 24 x 6cm depth (14 x 9 1/2 x 2 1/2 inch depth)

180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4

Melt the chocolate and butter in a bowl over a gentle heat.  Whisk the eggs and sugar together until it’s a light mousse.  Gradually add the melted chocolate mixture to the egg mousse.  Fold in the flour to this mixture.  Finally add the chopped nuts.  Cook in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, then turn down to 160°C/315°F/Gas Mark 2 1/2 for another 20 minutes until the centre is slightly wobbly, leave to sit in the tin to cool and set.  Turn out carefully and cut into squares. Yummy!

Popovers and variations

This is a gem of a recipe which can be made in seconds and used as a sweet or savoury dish, breakfast, as a pudding or just to go with a cup of tea.  There are many variations on the theme.

For 14 popovers

110g (4oz) flour

2 eggs

300ml (10fl oz) milk

15g (1/2oz) butter, melted


1/2 pot marmalade OR raspberry jam OR cranberry sauce OR savoury filling of your choice OR salad if desired

150ml (5fl oz) cream, whipped

icing sugar, to dust

Sift the flour into a bowl, make a well in the centre of the flour, drop in the eggs.  Using a small whisk or wooden spoon, stir continuously, gradually drawing in flour from the sides and add the milk in a steady stream at the same time.  When all the flour has been mixed in, whisk in the remainder of the milk and cool melted butter.  Allow to stand for one hour.  Grease hot deep patty tins with pure beef dripping or oil and fill half full.  Bake in a hot oven 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8 for 20 minutes approx.

Remove from the tins.  Cool and fill with a teaspoon of homemade marmalade or raspberry jam or cranberry sauce and whipped cream (or savoury filling of your choice).  Decorate with holly leaves.

Dust with icing sugar and serve immediately.

Note: If serving for breakfast fill with a spoon full of homemade marmalade, omit the cream.

Cheese Popovers: Add 50g (2oz) grated Cheddar cheese and 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard and a good pinch of salt to the mixture, season well and proceed as above, omit the jam and cream and enjoy immediately!

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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