Easy Chocolate Cupcakes

Am I the only one who avoids recipes that use an electric mixer because I can’t be bothered washing up?

It’s the height of laziness, I know. And as a result, pretty much all of the sweets I bake are mixmaster-free, except for special occasions.

I have no doubt that purists would argue the “melt-and-mix” variety of baking doesn’t produce a good crumb, or texture, or aeration. Or something like that. But you know what? I reckon most of my melt-and-mix cakes taste pretty damn good, and I’m hard to please.

So here’s one of them – easy chocolate cupcakes. They’re light but full of flavour, and can be served plain or jazzed up. And the best bit is that they’re made from pantry ingredients, take less than 20 minutes to prepare, and of course, all equipment is dish-washable!

Easy Chocolate Cupcakes

Easy Chocolate Cupcakes, adapted from Cakes by Le Cordon Bleu 

Ingredients

  • 110g butter
  • 80ml (1/3 cup) vegetable oil
  • 300g caster sugar
  • 150g dark chocolate
  • 100ml milk
  • 150ml water
  • 250g plain flour
  • 40g cocoa powder
  • 3tsp baking powder
  • pinch bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 eggs

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 160°C. Line 18 muffin tins with paper cases.
  2. Combine the butter, oil, sugar, chocolate, milk and water in a small saucepan over low heat until the chocolate and butter have melted and the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes.
  3. Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl and then whisk in the chocolate mixture. Gradually whisk in the eggs, one at a time, being careful not to over mix.
  4. Pour the batter into the prepared tins and bake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the centre of a cupcake.
  5. Allow the cupcakes to cool in the tin for 5 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

This recipe makes 18 cupcakes. Feel free to jazz them up with some chocolate ganache, or carve a hole in the centre and fill with dulce de leche.

 

Hot Cross Buns

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Is it just me or has Easter come around spectacularly fast? I’m sure it’s partially due to the early dates this year, but either way, the past three months seem to have flown by. I noticed this when I realised I hadn’t blogged since Christmas!

I’m one of those people who simultaneously complains about hot cross buns appearing in shops on Boxing Day, and secretly craves them. My solution this year (given the alternative was to buy very average buns from a supermarket) was to bake up a storm. I have a bit of an irrational fear of yeast; I’ve always much preferred baking from butter and eggs. My previous experiences with yeast have ranged from average to good, but I was willing to give it another try in the hope of hot cross buns fresh from the oven.

Despite a few issues with the yeast (which I almost expected), the buns turned out fantastic. They were nice and light with plenty of fruit and spice – a bland bun is dead to me! I honestly don’t think I’ve had a better hot cross bun, and this was my first batch!

So, the aforementioned yeast issues: I found that my first yeast mixture didn’t bubble, it just sat there. I could hear it quietly fizzing but nothing really seemed to be going on after 10 minutes. So I ended up leaving it and starting again, but this time with the milk slightly warmer. This did produce better results; I saw the foam start to accumulate on top much faster. Yeast is renowned for being sensitive, but I learnt that you do want the milk to feel warm as opposed to body temperature. You also don’t want the milk too hot which would kill the yeast. But please don’t let this put you off! Dried yeast is infinitely easier to work with than its fresh counterpart, and as long as you have foam your dough will turn out fine.

Onto the next issue: mixing. The first time I made these I decided to make them ‘the traditional way’ and shunned the electric mixer in favour of old fashioned hard work. I started to regret this decision 20 minutes later when my arms were aching and sticky dough was spread out all over the counter. I ended up adding extra flour to the original recipe (that’s modified below) which did help in making the dough less sticky, but the whole process was infinitely easier the second time I made the buns using a Kitchenaid. There was much less mess, and my muscles didn’t feel the pain! I will warn you, however, to make sure your electric mixer can cope with this quantity of sticky bread dough before you start. I also tried to make these buns in my Kenwood mixer, which started to emit steam from the motor after 10 minutes of mixing (it’s fair to say that was a bit of a disaster).

If you don’t have a mixer, or can’t use it, I would still urge you to give hot cross buns a go. Despite my complaints of sore muscles, the whole process really isn’t too bad, and in any case it is completely worth it for piping hot buns fresh from the oven.

Butter, anyone? Happy Easter!

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Hot Cross Buns, adapted from taste.com.au

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups (375ml) warm milk
  • 2 tsp (7g/1 sachet) dried yeast
  • 1/4 cup (55g) caster sugar
  • 60g butter, melted
  • 1 egg, lightly whisked
  • 4 1/2 cups (675g) plain 00 flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1.5 tblsp mixed spice
  • 1tsp cinnamon
  • 1 3/4 cup (300g) sultanas
  • 1/2 cup (75g) plain 00 flour, extra
  • 1/3 cup (80ml) cold water
  • 1/2 cup (170g) apricot jam

Method

  1. Combine the milk, yeast and 1 tbs of caster sugar in a small bowl. Set aside in a warm, draught-free place (such as the microwave) for 10 minutes or until frothy.
  2. Combine the milk mixture, butter and egg in a jug and whisk to combine. In a separate bowl, combine 4 1/2 cups (675g) of flour, salt, mixed spice, cinnamon and remaining caster sugar. Add the sultanas and stir to combine. Make a well in the centre. Pour in the milk mixture and use a wooden spoon to stir until just combined, then use your hands to bring the dough together. Alternatively, combine the dry and wet ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer on the lowest setting using a dough hook.
  3. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 15 minutes or until smooth and elastic, or alternatively, knead using an electric mixer on low speed for 10-15 minutes. Place the dough in a bowl and cover with a damp tea towel. Leave in a warm, draught-free place for 1 hour or until dough doubles in size.
  4. Preheat oven to 200°C. Grease a 23cm square cake pan or rectangular baking dish and line with baking paper. Punch the dough down with your fist. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 2-3 minutes or until dough is smooth and elastic. Divide dough into 16 even pieces and shape each portion into a ball. Arrange dough portions, just touching side by side, in the prepared pan. Cover with a tea towel and set aside in a warm, draught-free place for 30 minutes or until dough has risen 2cm.
  5. Meanwhile, mix the extra flour and water together in a small bowl until a smooth paste forms. Place in a small snaplock bag and snip off the end. Pipe a continuous line down the centre of each row of buns, lengthways and widthways, to form crosses. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 180°C and bake for a further 20 minutes or until golden and cooked through (buns are ready when they sound hollow when tapped on the base).
  6. Turn onto a wire rack. Place the jam in a small saucepan over high heat. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes or until jam melts. Strain through a fine sieve. Brush hot jam over the buns. Serve fresh out of the oven with butter. Hot cross buns are best eaten on the day they are made, but are lovely toasted the next day.

Very Vanilla Cake

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My little brother hates chocolate.

Tears would ensue if you even attempted to offer him chocolate as a toddler. These days he isn’t quite as likely to throw a tantrum, but he still won’t be happy if a blob of brown ends up in his strawberry-vanilla portion of neapolitan icecream.

Personally, I – along with most people – can’t really imagine a world without chocolate. A day rarely goes past where I don’t nibble at a block in the pantry, or indulge in some icecream or brownies. Although my favourite way to indulge is Lindt couverture, I’m not particularly fussy – I love the sweetness of Easter eggs and white chocolate!

I love cooking with chocolate almost as much as I love eating it. But to keep it fair, I figure I should bake something without chocolate every now and then for the little one. Although this Very Vanilla Cake will no doubt be met with questions of “Is it white chocolate?” (try explaining to a six-year-old that white chocolate isn’t really chocolate), I’m sure it’ll be greatly appreciated by the biggest vanilla fan in the house, as well as the rest of the family!

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I searched long and hard for a suitable vanilla cake recipe. I didn’t want something too dry or heavy, or worst of all, lacking in vanilla flavour. I had originally bookmarked Sweetapolita’s recipe for a Very Fluffy Vanilla Cake, but after reading the comments of various failures I chickened out a little. I generally don’t like using American baking recipes as, even with conversions, they never seem to work perfectly for me. In any case, I ended up using the vanilla buttercream recipe from Sweetapolita (though without vanilla beans), but sandwiched with a Peggy Porschen vanilla bean Victoria sponge soaked with a vanilla sugar syrup. I figured that would be vanilla-y enough!

The result? A lovely, moist layered vanilla cake, and probably the creamiest frosting I’ve ever had.

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Very Vanilla Cake

Sponge adapted from Peggy Porschen’s Cake Chic, buttercream frosting adapted from Sweetapolita

Vanilla Victoria Sponge

Ingredients

  • 100mL water
  • 75g sugar
  • 1 tsp good-quality vanilla extract (alternatively, the seeds of  1/2 a vanilla pod)
  • 200g butter, softened
  • 200g caster sugar
  • Seeds of one vanilla bean (alternatively, 1tsp vanilla bean paste)
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • 200g self raising flour, sifted

Method

  1. Firstly, combine the water, sugar and extract in a small saucepan and bring to the boil over a medium heat. Set aside.
  2. Grease and line the bottom and sides of two 8-inch sandwich tins, ensuring the baking paper rises 3cm above the edge of the tin. If you have them, place a Wilton flower nail in the centre of each pan (these help the cakes rise evenly rather than domed). Preheat the oven to 18o degrees celsius.
  3. Cream the butter, sugar and vanilla with an electic mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until pale and creamy, approximately 5-8 minutes.
  4. Beat the eggs lightly in a jug, and then add slowly to the butter mixture while beating on medium speed. If the mixture starts to curdle, stop adding the egg and see if continuing to beat will return the mixture back to normal (this usually occurs). If the mixture still looks curdled, add a tablespoon of flour and continue mixing.
  5. Once the egg mixture and butter mixture are combined, incorporate the flour at a low speed until just combined.
  6. Spread the cake batter evenly between the two tins, and flatten the surface using a palette knife. Bake for approximately 25 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.
  7. Allow the sponges to rest for around 15 minutes, and then prick the surface with a toothpick. Soak the sponge with the vanilla syrup using a pastry brush (note: I used around a quarter of the syrup but would recommend using more if you will be storing the cake for more than one day).
  8. When the sponges are completely cool, invert to a wire rack.
  9. Make the Fluffy Vanilla Buttercream (recipe below).
  10. Smear a small amount of buttercream onto your serving plate or cake board, and then place one of the sponges, top side down, onto the plate. Spread around a cup of icing onto the bottom of the cake using a palette knife. If your cake has a lot of crumbs you may find it useful to do a crumb coat first.
  11. Place the other sponge on top of the first one, top side down. Centre the cake and then cover the top and sides with buttercream, using a palette knife to smooth.
  12. Use any remaining buttercream to decorate the cake with a piping bag if desired (I did small rosettes).

Fluffy Vanilla Buttercream

Ingredients

  • 375g butter, softened
  • 3 cups/475g icing sugar, sifted
  • 2.25 tblsp/45mL milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Optional: seeds of one vanilla bean (I didn’t do this)

 Method

  1. Beat the butter using a paddle attachment on an electric mixer for 8 minutes on medium speed (‘4’ on a KitchenAid)
  2. Add remaining ingredients and combine on a low speed; increase to medium speed and beat for 6 minutes.
  3. This icing is best used immediately. It will go hard if kept in the fridge, however it should return to its original consistency if brought back to room temperature. You may need to beat the mixture again to make it smooth.

Notes

  • Try to avoid making this on a hot day (like I did). Heat and butter don’t really mix well! If you do make it on a warm day, either assemble the cake as close as possible to serving and leave it out of the fridge in the coolest part of the house, or if you make it in advance, the cake can be stored in the fridge but is best brought back to room temperature before serving. Ensure you syrup the cake well if you are doing this – the cake may dry out regardless, though it will still be yummy!
  • Also, on a hot day your icing may begin to soften as you are layering and icing the cake. If this happens you can put the cake and the icing in the fridge for short bursts to firm it up. You may need to beat the icing again when it comes out of the fridge for a smooth consistency. Either way, you will probably get better results on a cool day (or if you have really good air-conditioning), but it will still taste fine!
  • Using the flower nails helps to avoid the ‘domed’ look on a cake, which makes it hard to layer. If you don’t happen to have a flower nail at home (they’re around $4 in cake decorating shops), you may need to level off the sponges using a serrated knife.
  • Peggy recommends you use around half of this quantity of syrup for this size cake. I used a bit less and didn’t find the cake as moist as when I had previously used the same recipe. You can store the syrup in the fridge for up to one month, or you can make half of the quantity provided here.

Melting Moments

When I was a little kid, we would always leave out a treat for Santa and his reindeer on Christmas Eve. Carrots would often be on the menu for Rudolph and his friends; someone must have decided at some point that reindeer have a diet similar to horses. As for Father Christmas, he would of course be treated to a couple of biscuits, usually of the Arnotts variety, and a glass of milk.

Although I’m sure my parents appreciated the midnight snack as they rushed to wrap presents and sign them off from Santa Claus, these days we pretend that Santa has slightly finer tastes. My younger siblings are given a special packet of “reindeer food” at school (rolled oats and glitter that will be found for days afterward) to scatter outside and Santa is usually left some homemade biscuits or a slice of cake.

This year we’ll be treating Santa to a twist on the traditional shortbread: melting moments. Often found in cafes and restaurants, two shortbread biscuits sandwiched with a lemony filling are the perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea in the afternoon or a glass of milk at midnight. And best of all, they look impressive, taste much better than the bought variety but are deceptively easy! And I’m sure they will be greatly appreciated by someone on Christmas Eve this year…

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Melting Moments, adapted from the Women’s Weekly Wicked cookbook and taste.com.au

Ingredients

For the biscuits:

  • 250g unsalted butter, just softened
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup (80g) icing sugar mixture
  • 1.5 cups (225 g) plain flour
  • 1/2 cup (75g) cornflour

For the filling:

  • 60g unsalted butter, just softened
  • 2/3 cup (150g) icing sugar mixture
  • 2 tsp lemon zest
  • 2 tsp lemon juice

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 160 degrees celsius. Line 2 oven trays with baking paper.
  2. Beat the butter, essence and sugar using an electric mixer until light, very pale and fluffy; stir in sifted dry ingredients in 3 batches.
  3. Roll two teaspoons of the mixture into balls and place on the prepared trays, allowing 3cm between each biscuit. Using a fork dusted with flour, uses the tines to indent and flatten the balls slightly. Bake for approximately 17 minutes, or until the biscuits are beginning to colour around the outside and the bases are golden brown. Allow to stand on the trays for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack.
  4. Meanwhile, beat the extra butter and icing sugar mixture in a small bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in the lemon zest and juice, and then sandwich the cooled biscuits with the filling. Makes approximately 30 melting moments.

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This post is part of the December Sweet Adventures blog hop! Check out all of the other fantastic posts here, and find out how to participate here.

Basic Scones

Do you remember the boom of ‘4 Ingredient Cooking’ a couple of years ago? I never really understood all the hype, to be honest. Sure, there’s only four ingredients in your meal – but would it be better with five, or six? To me, an easy recipe has four steps, not four ingredients. I also figure that if you’re not putting much into your food, you’re probably not going to get a lot out of it. There are, of course, exceptions – you can definitely make a nice meal or snack with a few ingredients and some basics. But what makes these stand out is a good flavour combination and good quality ingredients, and in this respect, I don’t think a recipe book will always help you.

Perhaps the only true four ingredient recipe to which I turn regularly is one for scones. If you’re looking at a recipe for scones with more than 4 ingredients (excluding extras such as fruit), it’s probably unnecessarily complicated. Recipes for scones vary greatly but usually, their small ingredient list is common. I’ve seen recipes with milk, cream, lemonade, different flours, sugar, no sugar…the list goes on. The one that I use is probably the most basic (hence its title) but I don’t think it necessarily skimps on taste or texture. In the end, you generally don’t eat a plain scone on its own (pass the jam and cream, anyone?). Therefore you can get away with putting less in the scones themselves. Recipes that have cream, for instance, will probably be cakier, more flavoursome and buttery, but you’ll probably only notice this if you eat the scone by itself. Otherwise, in my opinion, a basic recipe is perfectly adequate.

I’ve heard lots of tips for making scones over the years, and a couple have stuck. The first one is to grate your butter instead of cubing it. This will make the rubbing process a lot quicker than if you’re dealing with cold, little cubes of butter that refuse to be rubbed into anything. While grating butter sounds a bit odd, I do find it helps. To make sure you get a fairly accurate measurement (though it doesn’t have to be exact), grate your butter directly into the bowl with the flour, and use kitchen scales to measure how much butter you’ve added. A box grater rather than a microplane works best.

The second is, as always, not to overwork the dough. You don’t really need to knead scone dough, or roll it out – a gentle pat is all that’s needed once the dough has come together. I remember being told in Year 8 Home Economics to give my scone dough 60 ‘turns’, or knead it 60 times. Of course I didn’t listen to this and ended up with the best scones in the class (and helped everyone else, too!).

Another thing to remember with scone dough is to more or less go with how it feels, rather than following the recipe to a T. The amount of milk absorbed by the flour will vary greatly, and so if you sense your dough will end up too dry as it’s coming together, act early and add some extra milk, though only a very small amount at a time. The dough will be a bit wet, but not excessively – you should be able to pat it out with floured hands.

Basic scones, adapted from taste.com.au

Ingredients

  • 450g/3 cups self-raising flour, sifted
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar
  • 80g butter, grated
  • Approx 1 cup full cream milk
  • Jam and cream, to serve

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 200 degrees celsius. Line a small baking tray or slice tin with baking paper.
  • Combine the flour and sugar, then add the grated butter. Rub the butter into the flour with your fingertips until there are no lumps of butter remaining. Try to get the mix looking as much like flour as possible.
  • Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture, and add one cup of milk. Using a butter knife, cut into the mixture, from one side of the bowl to the other, rotating the bowl after each ‘cut’. Continue until as much of the flour is incorporated as possible. Don’t stress too much if there is some flour left in the bottom of the bowl.
  • Gently bring the dough together and place on a work surface dusted with flour or covered with a sheet of baking paper. Gently pat out until it’s around 2-3cm thick.
  • Use a cookie cutter to cut out rounds from the dough, ensuring you don’t twist the cutter as you pull it out. Once you’ve cut as many rounds as you can, gently combine the dough again to cut out more rounds. At this point you can also add a tiny bit more milk to the flour left at the bottom of the bowl, make a dough and add this to the dough scraps to pat out. Note that these scones won’t be quite as nice as the first batch as the dough has been worked more.
  • Place the rounds on a baking tray and brush lightly with some extra milk using a pastry brush.
  • Pop them in the oven for around 25 minutes, depending on your oven. The scones are ready when they’re golden brown on the bottoms and tops.
  • Serve warm with jam and whipped or double cream. Scones are best eaten on the day they are made.

Buttermilk Pancakes

Everyone has a recipe for something that they claim is the best. It might be the best pumpkin soup, or the best roast potatoes, or the best chocolate cake. It’s usually a recipe for something that is well known, recreated often and stuffed up more often. It probably has a little tip or trick that may or may not work for everyone that tries the recipe. My ‘best’ recipe is for pancakes.

I’m not kidding when I say that everyone who tries these pancakes proclaims them to be the best ones they have ever tasted. They are quite thick pancakes, but also light and fluffy. They also don’t have that floury taste you often get with a basic pancake recipe. I think the addition of butter and sugar make them more cake-like, but in a good way – you can still cover them with as much maple syrup and icecream as you like, as they’re not too sweet on their own, but you could probably eat them on their own if you wanted to.

I guess there a couple of tricks to this recipe. The first is the buttermilk: it thickens the pancake mix so that when you put the batter into the frypan, it doesn’t spread out and become too thin (resulting in thin pancakes, which aren’t really my thing). Buttermilk is in the same section as ordinary milk in the supermarket, and despite its name, doesn’t actually contain butter. The second tip is the temperature of your hotplate: pancakes need to be cooked slowly, so they are evenly browned on the outside and cooked through on the inside. Hence you want your stovetop on low to medium heat; the worst thing you can do is crank the heat up too high, which would result in the middle of the pancake being raw. Sometimes it’s tempting to increase the heat because these pancakes take quite a while to cook (they’re no pancake shake, that’s for sure) but good things come from being patient!

A couple of other notes about the recipe – the original recipe only specified 500 mL of buttermilk, but I found this made the batter way too thick and difficult to work with, so I got into the habit of adding a little bit of extra ordinary milk to thin out the batter. The batter will still be thick enough to spread manually, but it will also spread a little bit by itself. I never actually measure the extra milk, as you might need more or less on each occasion, but it is approximately 1/4 cup. Another option is that if you’ve bought a 600mL carton of buttermilk, you can just use the entire thing and skip the ordinary milk entirely.

Secondly, I wouldn’t attempt these pancakes if you’re in a rush. I like to cook one pancake at a time and from preparation to consumption, the whole process takes over an hour. If you’re coordinated you could attempt to cook multiple smaller pancakes at a time in a larger frypan, or you could have two pans going at once, which would speed up the process.

Buttermilk pancakes, adapted from BBC Good Food Magazine (Australia) 

Ingredients

  • 45g butter
  • 2 cups/300g plain flour
  • 2.5 tsp baking powder
  • 0.5 tsp bicarb soda
  • 1/4 cup/55g white sugar
  • 600mL buttermilk or 500mL buttermilk with approx. 1/4cup regular milk
  • 2 free range eggs
  • A little bit of butter, extra, for the pan
  • Maple syrup, jam, honey, strawberries and icecream to serve

Method

  1. Melt butter on stovetop or in microwave, cool.
  2. Sift together flour and raising agents. Stir in sugar.
  3. In a separate bowl whisk together milks and eggs. Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture and pour in the milk mixture. Whisk together gently until almost combined. Add butter and gently fold through. The mixture should still be a bit lumpy.
  4. Heat a little bit of butter in a heavy-based non-stick frying pan on low-medium heat (I preheat the stove on mark 4, then reduce to 3 when I’m ready to cook – my stove goes up to 9). Wipe out most of the excess butter with paper towel (you don’t want to shallow fry your pancakes).
  5. Once the pan is hot, pour 1/3 cup of batter into the pan. The batter will still be quite thick. Gently spread out mixture into a circle of about 15cm diameter with the back of a spoon or spatula. Once you have made a couple of pancakes you will be able to work out how thin you should spread your batter to get it the thickness you want – I like them thick, so I leave the batter thick, maybe half a centimetre in height.
  6. Cook the pancake for 3-4 minutes or until a few bubbles appear on the surface and pop. You can also use a spatula to have a little peek underneath the pancake; it’s ready to flip if it’s brown. If your pancakes are browning too much but not cooking, turn the heat down to low.
  7. Flip and cook for about a minute or two, increasing the heat slightly (I increase to mark 4). The pancake should puff up and be nice and fluffy. Repeat until all of the pancakes are finished.
  8. Serve with whatever you please. If you want to serve the pancakes all at once, you can keep them in a very low heat oven while the others are cooking. If you want to save them for later, put the pancakes on a wire rack to cool as you cook them (this stops them going soggy) and then store them in the fridge.

This recipe makes around 10 large pancakes, or more smaller ones. It really depends on how much batter you use per pancake. The original recipe stated it should serve 6 people, but I think it’s probably closer to 4.

So I guess you want photographic evidence that these pancakes actually are super yummy. I wish I could give it to you, but I am still awful at taking photos. You’ll have to look at this (awful) picture on instagram and trust me…

Until next time then! Let me know if these pancakes turned out as well for you as they do for me.