Christmas Candy Cane Peppermint Macarons

If you are one of those people who completely shuns Christmas until December, please, look away now. I shamelessly admit to loving Christmas and (almost) everything that comes with it. Yes, I confess, my tree went up last night a whole 5 days before the start of advent – shock horror!

I’d originally planned these macarons to take to cake clubs Christmas gathering (also held yesterday, so it’s not just me!), but time just wasn’t on my side this weekend, and I couldn’t make it back over to Nottingham. I decided to make them anyway, much to Rob’s delight, and we happily munched through rather too many, in front of a good Christmas film last night.

You can find my macaron recipe on this previous post. I followed it exactly as is, adding a tiny blob of gel colour in at the egg beating stage, saving the majority of green colouring to right before piping, painting lines of green gel colour inside the piping nozzle before adding the macaron mixture.

In hindsight I should have piped a bit through first, as the first shells came out rather uncoloured:

But, as I piped on, they got more swirly and candy-cane like, and when the piping bag needed refilling, I streaked in some more good, solid lines of colour (using a cocktail stick).

The result – some great swirly shells! I love how they got little circles in where the air bubbles rose up and popped (during the slamming on the worktop stage), no two were the same.

I left them for their skin-setting period and baked, and for reasons which fail me, they just did not rise up as much as my previous macarons. Answers on the back of a postcard please. Nevertheless they still had all the elements of good shells: shiny, crispy outsides, and soft chewy middles, all encompassed by great festive green swirls. (Yes, size-consistency is still on my to-do list 🙂 )

For the real candy cane element – the sweet mint flavouring, I whipped up some light, white, mint buttercream.

Using approx. 50g lurpak (good for white colour buttercream), 110g icing sugar and 1 teaspoon of peppermint essence (available easily in the supermarket), I beat the butter well, to add lightness in both flavour and colour, using an electric whisk on high for about 3 minutes, before adding in the icing sugar and mint flavouring.

I paired the shells up on the cooling rack ready, then sandwiched each pair together with a very generous dollop of the peppermint cream.

Ensuring it was well spread out from all sides (a cocktail stick came in handy here), I then rolled the whole macaron in red sparkly sugar, which stuck to the wet buttercream.

Half an hour in the fridge and they were soon ready to eat – a crunchy treat with a soft, sweet, sticky mint outside. They won’t be around for long!

Two Great Years – Vanilla and Chocolate Chip Anniversary Cake

I’ve been away a lot with work in the past couple of weeks (7 nights away out of the past 12, groan!) so decided a while back we’d have a nice little celebration cosied up at home, nice dinner, bottle of wine, Christmas film on the TV (can’t believe I’ve got my own way and started Christmas so early!) and rounded off with a big sticky cake.

Using the same number and letter cake pan as my 80th cake, I made a number 2 chocolate chip cake, in the slightly smaller size (you can either have the cake 5 or 7 ‘blocks’ tall). The other post explains it a little better – safe to stay I still love this tin!

I used a very basic sponge recipe and ramped it up with some vanilla and chocolate chips – it was very quick to make which was ideal as I wanted to keep the whole cake a secret.

– 100g butter
– 100g caster sugar
– 2 eggs
– 100g self raising flour
– 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
– 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
– 100g chocolate chips

– beat together the butter, sugar, and vanilla
– beat in the eggs
– sieve the flour and baking powder into the bowl. Pour the chocolate chips on top of the flour, then slowly fold in, but don’t over-mix. Getting the chocolate chips covered in flour first helps to stop them all sinking to the bottom
– bake at 180 degrees for 15-20 minutes depending on the size and shape of tin. As the ‘thickest part’ of this cake was only about a couple of inches across, it didn’t take long to cook.

Once cooled, I covered in 2 thick layers of vanilla butter cream, refrigerating between and after the second one:

And to finish a thick layer of chocolate fondant. I’m the first to admit this is far from my best fondant work, made all the more difficult by trying to keep Rob out of the kitchen to keep the surprise. At one point I managed to poke myself in the face with a knife and tear a hole in the fondant in one fell swoop – cue lots of cursing!

Finally, onto the decoration. I’d been musing over this all day at work – sprinkles, sparkles, hearts, numbers, initials? But when I got home and a look through my (overflowing) box of cake supplies, I quickly settled on some leftovers of coloured fondant and a tiny heart plunge cutter. Simple and effective – and most importantly quick, Rob still didn’t know what was going on!

And the finished product! Rob loved it, although his first reaction was “I didn’t get you a present”. Luckily my quick reactions and no desire to stay in the kitchen any further, I managed to convince him that paying for a takeaway was all the present I need!

We even managed to sneak in a quick piece before the takeaway arrived… look at those chocolate chips!

So enjoy your evening while we enjoy ours curled up with cake – to finish here is one of my favourite pictures of Rob and I, taken on the beach in Blackpool, in December of 2010. Chilly but magical in the snow!

Afternoon Tea at The Delaunay, Covent Garden

A couple of weeks ago I spent a chilly Saturday in London catching up with some old friends.

We’d decided in advance that the afternoon tea was a must for the day, and on recommendation, booked a table at The Delaunay, in Covent Garden.

Located on leafy Aldwych, The Delaunay is a European Cafe Restaurant and serves meals throughout the day including afternoon tea from 3-6.30pm. At ÂŁ25 a head it’s more than I’d pay back home in Nottingham, but pretty reasonable by London prices.

We were greeted with a warm welcome and barely needed to consult the menu – only to choose from the range of teas and coffees to go with our afternoon tea.

I went for a fresh mint tea – served in a funky glass tea pot:

… which was very quickly followed by a stunning silver tower of afternoon tea treats:

I loved the little silver dome on top – concealing (and keeping warm) some hot fruit scones:

Each stand was for 2 of us, so we shared a tasty selection of tiny finger sandwiches (what do they do with all their crusts?):

…and an equally amazing selection of 6 mini cakes, which we shared between us in order to try a piece of each! Clockwise from front (as far as I can remember): pistachio cake with sour cherry filling, chocolate and hazelnut layer slice, vanilla cheesecake, rosewater battenburg, coffee cream eclair, lemon meringue tart.

They were all very tasty – the lemon tart very tangy, pistachio and sour cherry perhaps a little too complex for my taste buds, and rosewater battenburg a great twist on tradition, with the marzipan edge coloured pink and flavoured delicately with rosewater. I think my winner was probably the vanilla cheesecake – simple but effective – it was so light and creamy it literally melted in the mouth!

And after 6 pieces of cake? Scones of course! Served with sticky strawberry jam and fresh clotted cream. To be honest they were no longer warm by the time we got to them, but they were still fresh moist and fluffy inside.

It took us over 2 hours to conquer the amazing afternoon tea and we left feeling rather full but incredibly satisfied! I’d definitely recommend The Delaunay, the service was great, we had lots of refills of tea and the food was more than plentiful and absolutely delicious.

As for my next trip to London… well as much as I’d love to go back I feel my services to cake-kind mean I have to keep trying other places – it’s a hard life!

Flash Bang! Firework Pinwheel Cookie Pops

Happy bonfire night! Remember, remember the 5th of November…

I’m happy to say we got the whole bonfire and fireworks thing out the way on Friday night, leaving me to enjoy a Monday evening curled up on the sofa, munching happily on these pretty cookie pops I made over the weekend.

Originally I was going to make some iced cookies, but stumbled across pinwheels on the brilliantly named Rock ur Party. They are brilliantly simple to make, and I adapted slightly this recipe from bbc good food. The last link I have to share from you is the delight that is Sweetapolita – who reassures me that baking biscuits on sticks is perfectly normal!

Recipe
100g butter
100g caster sugar
1 tablespoon golden syrup
150g self raising flour
1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence
Pinch each of cinnamon and nutmeg

– cream together the butter and sugar
– beat in the syrup, vanilla and spices
– add half the flour, beat well
– add the remaining flour and mix to a stiff dough. You will need to roll your dough into balls so if it’s sticky, add a bit more flour)
– colour, decorate, sprinkle… and bake at 180 for 8-10 minutes (don’t over bake or the biscuit will be too crunchy and the bright colours will start to brown).

I chose to colour mine in all the shades of the rainbow, using and mixing all my gel colours to create 10 different colours.

I rolled each colour into little balls (about the shape of a small grape), and popped them into the fridge for 1/2 hour as they were getting a little sticky.

Next step was the most fun, combining the tiny balls into larger multicoloured ‘beach balls’ to make the coloured fireworks.

Mostly I used 4 colours per ball / cookie, but I experimented with some using 2 colours, and some using more. Honestly I found the less colours the better, it was a simpler but more well-defined firework pinwheel effect. (Don’t they remind you of the everlasting gobstoppers from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?!)

Rolling the beach balls out into a thin sausage, and twisting…

…then curling the sausage around on itself to create the pinwheel (or catherine wheel if you are thinking in firework terms!)

Insert a paper lollipop/cake pop stick (not a plastic one as they’ll melt it the oven)

Than roll the edge in sprinkles, and too with more before baking, if desired. I used a mixture of sugar sprinkles, non pareils, sugar stars, and glitter sugars.

Once baked, I finished with a little shimmer spray and quick brush of edible lustre where needed. Ready to eat straight off the stick – yummy!

PS – it’s bakes like this when I’m very glad we have a dishwasher…

Perfectly Petite Pumpkin Pie

(and it’s low-fat too!)

If last weeks pumpkin was a baby, this weeks is truly a monster.

(Last weeks carving had started to sag a little, I love how it looks like a gummy old man pumpkin 🙂 )

The monster in the background was home-grown by my dad, and even though he claims they didn’t grow very big this year it sure looked like a whopper to me. Bringing it home in the car it took up the whole passenger seat, and I was tempted to put a seatbelt on to keep it from rolling around!

As another measure of scale – it was nearly as big as our two (fully-grown but not that large) cats, Chilli and Pepper.

Are cats supposed to like pumpkin? They couldn’t quite figure it out in any case!

Because I’d made quite a big pumpkin tart this week, I kept only a little of this one for baking. The rest was used in some delicious pastas and risottos, and finished off last night in a creamy pumpkin soup. Yum!

I very loosely based my pie on this bbc recipe, although I’m rather disappointed they suggest a shop-bought pastry case when they’re so easy to make at home.

The following is for a teeny little tart of approximately 3-4 inches, but should easily scale up.

Pastry

40g butter can be substituted for low fat spread although end texture may differ a little)
80g plain flour
Water

Rub the butter into the flour using light touches. Add a little water at a time until the pastry mixes to a stiff dough. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before rolling. Remember to save 1/3 of your pastry for the lid!

I made my pastry case in a mini, loose bottomed tart tin. I blind baked it for around 15 minutes at 180 degrees – producing a crisp, slightly golden case (the ceramic baking beads had just been decanted into a second tin so the case could cool down). Blind baking is recommended for this kind of pie, as it has such a moist filling you are in danger of the dreaded soggy bottom if the pastry is not pre-cooked.

As for the filling, well, this is where I improvised rather a lot on Mr. Worrall-Thompsons recipe. Steaming the pumpkin, boiling this that and the other. Far too complicated! I was a bit slap-dash with throwing things in the bowl so quantities are a little approximate.

Filling

300-400g raw pumpkin
2-3 tablespoons of brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon each of cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger
1/2 egg (keep the other half for egg washing the top)
100ml cream (I used this alpro alternative as a great low-fat and dairy-free substitute. It tastes exactly like cream!)

– microwave the pumpkin for 3-4 minutes in a large bowl until hot and mushy
– pour the pumpkin into a sieve and use a spoon to press out the excess water. You want the texture to be a bit like mashed potatoes

– put the pumpkin back in the bowl, mix in the sugar, spices, and cream, and microwave again for 2 minutes until hot and bubbling
– taste! it might look like baby food bit is delicious at this stage: creamy, spicy, sweet pumpkin mush 🙂 Add more sugar or spices if you feel it needs them

– add the egg and quickly stir before it starts to cook in the hot mixture
– spoon the mixture into the pie case

– brush a little egg round the top of the pastry case before placing on the lid.
– to add some extra spook I used the extra pastry to cut out a bat shape (using the same cutter as my bat biscuits), which I again brushed with egg before placing in the middle
– finally a last egg wash all over the top for a nice shiny finish, and a couple of small holes for steam vents

– baking time will depend on your size and oven. Mine took around 30 minutes at 180 degrees. The pie should be piping hot and a lovely golden brown colour

A little while later I carefully turned it out of the tin and immediately fell in love with its’ cuteness – such a perfect little pie!

Once cut open the pastry was crunchy and crumbly, and the filling a moist, creamy just-set texture.

Oh and that wasn’t all! I had a little pastry and a little filling left, so made some teeny tarts in my silicon petit four cases. I simply cut a circle of pastry and filled generously with the pumpkin mixing, before baking for about 10 minutes. Some of the cutest (and tastiest!) tarts I think I have made 🙂

But how could I forget the piece de resistance – you are surely not still reading for the baking! Another masterpiece carving to finish with.