New Years Firework Cupcakes

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Tangy lemon cupcakes with coloured fondant fireworks, shimmer spray and plenty of edible glitter! To be enjoyed tonight with a large glass of bubbles 🙂

Farewell to a fantastic 2012 and and looking ahead to what promises to be a great 2013.

Happy New Year to you and yours, hope it starts with a bang!

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Merry Christmas! Red Velvet & White Chocolate Santa Cookies

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Seasons Greetings to you and yours, hope that Santa bought everything you wanted and more!

These little bites of festivity were cut using a Santa cutter I bought in Hamburg a couple of weeks back (you can see some photos from the Christmas markets here). You could easily find a template online if you don’t have a special Santa cutter!

Hard as I tried I couldn’t find a good recipe with UK weights anywhere – so had to improvise one of my own! It’s based on the butter sable biscuits I’ve made before (like these racing car biscuits), but adapted to get that vibrant red!

100g plain flour
15g cocoa powder
100g butter
60g icing sugar
1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence
Several drops of red colour paste/gel (liquid colours won’t give the same vibrancy when you bake)

Simply rub the butter into the dry ingredients to resemble breadcrumbs, then mix in the yolk, colouring and vanilla to form a stiff dough. Refrigerate before rolling out, cook for 7-10 minutes at 180 degrees.

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To decorate I kept things simple by melting white chocolate and piping a beard, and fur trims for his sleeve, hat and hem.

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Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas 🙂 x

Christmas Spiced Santa Cupcakes

santa claus christmas cupcakes easy made out of coloured fondant

Last weekend I went to a Santa fancy dress party… was there really any choice about what to make?

I wanted to add a little twist to some simple vanilla cupcakes – so added 1 teaspoon vanilla essence, 1/2 teaspoon ginger, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 1 teaspoon of nutmeg to the batter, to give them a lovely warm festive spice.

Would you believe the one time I don’t want them too – they actually over-rose, so I had to trim the tops slightly to give a flat base for the fondant (great excuse for taste testing though!)

christmas spiced cupcakes red metallic cases cutting off the tops

To add some extra flavour, moisture and general stickiness to the cakes, I brushed them with a sticky spice glaze. This was made simple by boiling 3 tbsp water, 75g brown sugar, a splash of vanilla essence and pinch of nutmeg. Boiled (in a non stick pan) for about a minute and then left to cool, it cooled to a thick, syrupy glaze which I brushed onto the still-warm cupcakes.

christmas spiced cupcake glaze pastry brush cinnamon sugar

Having found some fondant-confidence from my cupcake decorating class a few weeks ago, I decided to top the cupcakes entirely with fondant.  One of the things I learnt about in the class was tylo(tylose) powder. Adding it to fondant makes gumpaste, which is a bit more pliable and easy to work with, but the real benefit is that it makes the icing set harder and firmer, so your shapes stay put, colours don’t merge, etc. I bought this big tub online for about ÂŁ5, it will last a long time. For about 250g of fondant you need perhaps a teaspoon of tylo powder and just need it in. You can get granules but this fine stuff is better for adding to fondant.

tylo powder for making fondant shapes harden and use in edible glue

And as if that’s not useful enough – you can also use the tylo to make edible glue, to stick different bits of fondant (or gumpaste) together. Simply mix about 1/4 teaspoon of tylo with 2 tablespoons of water in a small pot, and mix well. And tada, glue!

edible glue made from tylo powder used for fondant cupcakes

For these santa cupcakes I shaped all the fondant with these 3 concentric pastry circle cutters. You can see each has a smooth-sided edge  and a fluted side of the same size.

round pastry cutters concentric different sizes for making santa christmas cupcakes

To start, for the face base, a simple of circle of pink icing the same size as the cupcake. The sugar glaze on the cake was more than sticky enough to hold in place. (While wracking my cupboards for a good skin-coloured mix, I came across the leftover ready-made pink fondant from my Nanny’s 80th cake. Hurrah! It pays to have endless cupboards of cake decorating items…)

santa cupcakes making the face base using light pink fondant

Next up – the moustache. I brushed the bottom of the pink fondant with a little edible glue. A little goes a long way, and it works well to put it on before you cut out your shapes so it can get a little tacky. If you forget, it still works to stick things straight on top!

edible glue on fondant for sticking details onto cupcakes made from tylo powder

To cut the beard, I used white fondant and the middle cutters fluted edge, then cut across to fit the face with the smooth side of the largest circle.

santa cupcakes recipe instructions making the beard using round pastry cutters

Next up, moustache – a combination of the smallest and largest fluted circles.

santa cupcakes moustache using pastry cutters white fondant

For some reason I didn’t take a photo of the hats. It took a fair amount of working in the colour paste to get the vibrant red but well worth it  – they were cut with just a triangle (I used a paper template so they’d all be the same angle) rounded at the bottom with one of  smooth edges.

The fur trim for the hat was simply 2 concentric smooth-edged rounds, trimmed at the sides so they’d fit neatly around the base of the hat.

santa cupcakes hat trim using concentric pastry cutter circles

To get the furry effect on Santa’s hat trim, I simply used a cocktail stick to mottle little dots all the way across the white piece.

santa cupcakes mottled effect using a cocktail stick to look like fur white fondant pink round nose

A small ball of pink for the nose, and a white ball for the hat pom-pom; again I mottled this with a cocktail stick so it would look furry.

santa cupcakes recipe instructions hat pom pom from white fondant mottled effect to look like fur

Some little black eyes and a good brush of edible glitter later (I kept it just on the fur so Santa looked extra polished) – and Mr Claus was ready to go!

finished fondant santa cupcake edible glitter christmas sparkle baking

Which is the real Santa? Well, that’d be telling… and I do want him to bring my presents in a couple of days time!

christmas spiced santa cupcakes red metallic wrappers fondant decoration face

santa christmas sparkle cupcakes beard moustache and hat all made of fondant

They went down a treat – and what a fantastic party it was too!

santa fancy dress party fur trim hood christmas

Christmas Gingerbread Houses

gingerbread houses for christmas star front door smartie roof

What could be more Christmassy than the warm spice of gingerbread, sugared with crunchy royal icing and adorned with yummy sweets?

I’d not made a gingerbread house before and decided that was my challenge for this festive season! Using the recipe from BBC good food and tips from Kirstie Allsopp’s version over on C4.

For the construction itself I actually varied the BBC template slightly – their house was quite tall and church-like, I wanted mine to be more of a snow-covered family home. I printed off their templates and trimmed accordingly, making sure the sides that needed to match up and join were the same size as each other.

gingerbread house templates roof side wall front back

After refrigerating the dough for a good half an hour, I rolled it out directly onto the greaseproof baking sheet and cut around the templates. Doing it straight on the sheet means not picking up or moving the pieces, which can easily break them.

gingerbread house rolling out pin paper templates greaseproof baking sheet christmas

gingerbread house pieces dough ready to bake roof side walls end

It took the pieces about 15 minutes to bake in our fan oven, I wanted them quite firm as construction was going to be tricky enough as it was! The recipes recommended using the paper templates to re-trim the pieces into shape after cooking incase they’d spread slightly. Perhaps not so wisely I chose to skip this step as I wanted a ‘rustic’ look to my house… it did make things a little tricky when it came to piecing them together!

I took a great tip from Kirstie Allsopp – to decorate the pieces and let them set over night before assembly. This means piping onto a flat surface and makes it much easier to get the shapes and patterns you want – without trying to do them on sides when it is assembled. The icing is a simple mix of 2 egg whites and 500g of icing sugar, and sets really hard so perfect for the decorations and assembly. It keeps really well in an air-tight container in the fridge so you don’t have to do everything in one go.

For the roof pieces I used a cocktail stick to mark out the pattern for the smarties on a roof top, before gluing them on with generous blobs of royal icing.

marking holes on gingerbread house roof for icing with sweets smarties

gingerbread house roofs ideas decorated with chocolate beans smarties sweets royal icing

Next step – a great time freehand decorating the walls and windows, and plenty of snowy decor!

royal icing piping design close up detail gingerbread house window christmas

gingerbread house vines and plants piping front door christmas baking royal icing

I put the finished pieces aside and left them to dry overnight.

christmas gingerbread house pieces ready to assemble decorate with white royal icing

Next day, when it came to assembly, I’m not going to lie – it was tricky! Pieces sliding all over the place (perhaps something to do with my impatience to get it together). The great thing is the icing doesn’t need to be neat – it all adds to the snowy effect – and nobody is going to know what the joins look like from the inside! I actually employed a spare pair of hands to keep the pieces together while it started to set:

gingerbread house assembly with white royal icing holding up with hands

Rather a lot more icing later and the house was together!

christmas gingerbread house with smarties roof and white royal icing piping

I used the spare royal icing to try to pretty up the joins a little, with snow mounds, and a little added sparkle from some edible glitter.

christmas gingerbread house royal icing piping detail edible glitter chocolate bean roof smarties

You might have noticed some extra pieces in a few of the photos – I had some spare dough after making the big house that I used to make a super-cute teeny tiny version as well.

christmas gingerbread houses back view windows roof beams trailing plants smarties white royal icing

Did you know cats like gingerbread too?And a lot!

grey tabby cat eating christmas gingerbread house festive baking

I was lucky enough to be over in Hamburg, Germany last week, and was determined to find a gingerbread house to see how mine compared. We went to the biggest Christmas market in the city – Rathausmarkt, at the town hall.

hamburg weihnachtsmarkt christmas market rathaus markt2012 germany decorations

With a mulled wine or two to stave off the sub-zero temperatures, I was disappointed to find absolutely no gingerbread houses. What is Christmas coming too! The closest things came were these (very pretty but expensive) china decorations:

gingerbread house christmas decorations hamburg weihnachts markt

And some hand-decorated gingerbread hearts (reading ‘Happy Christmas’ for the non-German speakers reading!)

gingerbread iced hearts hanging decorations frohe weihnacht hamburg rathausmarkt christmas markets

G and Teatime – Afternoon Tea with a Twist

This afternoon we spent a lovely couple of hours at The Lacehouse in Nottingham (at the time of writing their site is under development, find them on Facebook in the meantime).

In the heart of Nottingham’s Lace Market, the Lacehouse is a lovely new bar taking full advantage of the areas original brickwork and beautifully crafted buildings.

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The afternoon was run by G and Teatime who host a lot of different events and tastings around the country. Keep an eye out for voucher codes – our afternoon was ÂŁ29 a person which is much more reasonable than the published price!

We were hosted by the lovely Kate; very knowledgeable on all that is alcohol, she started with a history of gin, it’s flavours, distilling, and journey to present day. Think it’s an English drink? Not at all, we stole it from the Netherlands! And it’s where the phrase Dutch courage comes from, after the troops took it with them during the Dutch Thirty Years war.

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As we arrived we were straight into the tasting, with a spiced gin cocktail to warm the cockles! The spiced gin was mixed with apple juice and English breakfast tea, and had a yummy, warming, Christmassy flavour.

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To line our stomachs we were also supplied with great platters of tea, sandwiches and cakes.

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As we munched on the sandwiches and cakes, Kate continued to explain how to taste and test gin. We also had a sniff of the flavourings used in Caorunn’s
gin – and after a few tasting tips we could definitely taste some of them!

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A few more gins later…

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(Sloane’s modelled by our lovely gin dolly!)

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An hour and a half later we were swaying slightly but with big smiles on our faces. The afternoon was definitely more about the gin than it was about the cake, but we had a lovely time nonetheless. I’d definitely advise having a big lunch before – not normal practice with afternoon tea! A social, educational and definitely tasty event 🙂

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Christmas Cupcake and Cake Pop Course – April Delights, Nottingham

christmas theme cupcakes from april delights nottingham decorating class fondant sugarpaste work

Last Sunday I spent a truly delightful afternoon over at April Delights in Bestwood (a few miles north of Nottingham city centre) taking part in a cupcake and cake pop decorating class.

I’d paid for the class about 6 months ago through groupon – the price of ÂŁ23 seemed like a bargain for 4 hours of cake tuition. However by the end of the afternoon I’d realised you can actually book classes directly for the same price – you live and learn!

The class was fully booked, there were about 20 of us in total, and we all had a little workspace with a mat to roll the fondant, rolling pins, and access to all the cutters, tools, colours and glitter we could need.

The owner of April Delights – Adele – spent about half an hour taking us through 3 of the more complicated cupcakes – Rudolph, Santa and the Christmas Tree. Broken down into easy steps they seemed so easy! Then we were set off on our own to try to remember how on earth she’d gone from a big ball of white fondant into these perfect looking cakes.

april delights nottingham cupcake decorating class demonstration

First up was embossing a fondant topping for the cupcakes. We used pre-made vanilla cupcakes, which had a sugar glaze to help the fondant stick. After pressing in an embossing sheet to create the pattern, it was simply a case of using a round biscuit / pastry cutter the same size as the cake to get the perfect size.

embossed fondant topped cupcakes silver wrapper sugar paste

I went for the reindeer first – on the brown base – which was largely a case of rolling and moulding brown fondant into the right shape for the head, before adding eyes, antlers and a nose also made of fondant. Sounds simple but took rather a lot of sculpting to get him right! Everything we made was stuck together with edible glue which is so easy to work with – it stays tacky for quite a while and dries clear, so was perfect for all the little details.

Next up was the Christmas tree. This was simply a brown based, topped with 6 green stars, in decreasing sizes (2 each of large, medium and small), staggered to give the branch effect. I love how simple this cake was – completely different to the Chocolate Brownie Christmas trees I’d made the week before, but equally as effective.

fondant decoration christmas tree cupcake make of stars green

fondant christmas tree cupcake soft pearl gold topper

By this time I was feeling a little more adventurous and loved having an experiment on my other cakes.

The Santa that Adele had shown us was upturned in a big pile of snowballs – but I decided to do mine as “when Santa got stuck up the chimney” – as my mum is forever getting this song stuck in her head at this time of year!

It took a bit of time to shape the chimney and mark in brick lines, but the legs themselves were quite simple. A great tip to create the look of fur (around the edge of the boots) is simply to mottle the white fondant with a cocktail stick or edge of a small tool.

For the wreath I simply used a small leaf cutter, 3 different shades of green, and finished off with a few red berries.

christmas cupcakes fondant work tree holly wreath santa got stuck in a chimney cake sugar paste

For my 5th cake I went for some classic Christmas presents – relatively simple cubes of coloured fondant, with slightly more fiddly ribbon wrapping and bows. I love the black fondant base, but it needed something more to set it off – cue some gold lustre and soft gold pearls.

Finally – and I think my favourite – igloo and penguin. For the base I added some blue gel colour to white fondant, kneading through until it had just swirled into an icy effect.

I tried a number of ways to make the igloo, and in the end settled on chopping white fondant into small blocks and building it up. It certainly wouldn’t last long in the arctic, my construction skills leave a lot to be desired!

But the star of the show – my little penguin! Again he is entirely made out of fondant – a black body, orange beak and feet, white tummy and eyes. By the time I got to the eye pupils it was getting a little fiddly, so I used the end of cocktail stick to paint these on with a little gel colour. I sat him on a blue snowflake for extra icy look.

igloo and penguin cupcake fondant snow flake swirl ice base gel colours christmas theme

christmas cupcakes wrapped presents gifts igloo penguin ice swirl reindeer fondant icing sugarpaste

As if hours of cupcake making wasn’t enough (it took me 2 1/2 hours to make 6 cupcakes – how does anyone make a living out of this!) – we also whipped up a quick set of cake pops.

Using a pre-mixed butter cream/cake combo for the balls, they shaped remarkably well and dried quickly and well-rounded in the white candy melts. Why isn’t it this easy at home! I think my lesson learned here is to have a very thick, almost dry dough to make the cake balls with. They rolled really easily without sticking to my hands, and held their shape and form on the stick perfectly.

cake pop class april delights nottingham white chocolate candy melts

We only had time for quick decoration of the cake pops – some wintry snowflakes, red love hearts, and some gold sparkly sugar.

cake pops red hearts snow flakes gold sugar

Overall I really enjoyed the course. Perhaps just because it was great to spend 4 unadulterated hours making cakes, with all the equipment on tap, or having 6 pretty cake pops and 6 cupcakes to take home, or picking up some new tips and meeting like-minded people along the way. I’d definitely consider going back and will be keeping my eye out on upcoming courses – they do large feature cake courses as well as cupcakes and basic skills.

Before I left I had a quick snoop around in the studio at some of Adele’s amazing creations – and wow!

Wedding cakes table:

april delights nottingham wedding table fondant work cake display

Willy Wonka Golden Ticket Cake:

april delights nottingham willy wonka golden ticket birthday cake fondant work

Giant Octopus – made by a colleague of Adele’s who runs airbrush courses at the same studio:

april delights nottingham airbrush cake octopus

Chocolate Brownie Christmas Trees

christmas tree forest mini cupcakes piped with a star nozzle and green butter cream

What a week last week turned into! The winter weather well and truly hit the UK with some horrid floods followed by a sharp cold snap – road closures and ice everywhere. I shouldn’t complain, a lot of people have far more serious problems caused by the floods, but for me it’s meant some horrific problems commuting – one day it took a total of 5 hours, just to go 20 miles each way!
By Wednesday I was just plain fed up, in a bit of a sulk, and craving some time in the kitchen to cheer myself up. What could make me happier than some festive baking! Totally inspired by these Christmas tree cupcakes over on The Baking‘s blog. Thankfully this week is looking a little better (although I did skid on a big patch of ice this morning) – and I’m back to Christmassy enthusiasm!

I have no recipe for these I’m afraid. They started as a a kind of whipped chocolate cupcake to use up the egg yolks from the weekends Christmas macarons but ended up having all kinds added – melted chocolate and coarsely ground hazelnuts being two of the main culprits. I baked them in my mini muffin tray, spraying it with cake release first so they popped out easily. They came out as a fudgy, nutty brownie, good for all kinds of cravings and a perfect base for my little trees.

mini christmas tree cakes petit fours green icing with yellow star on top

For the Christmas trees themselves, I simply mixed up some stiff green butter cream, and piped onto the brownie using star nozzles. Starting with a wide star nozzle, pressing it down so the base spread out, leaving for 10 minutes to set slightly, then piping smaller stars on top, finishing with a finer swirl from the smaller nozzle.

metal star icing nozzles wide small piping bags bright green butter cream christmas tree

My decorations weren’t as elaborate as those over on The Baking – all my patience has been used sitting in traffic jams this week – so I topped them with a simple gold star sprinkle, and a quick spritz of silver shimmer spray.

chocolate brownies with christmas tree butter cream top festive baking easy star nozzle piping

Because the icing was so stiff to start with it held really well, so the result was a soft, gooey brownie with a squishy icing tree topper. Hooray for Christmas!

christmas tree picture mini cupcake choclate brownie with butter cream piped topping

christmas tree mini cupcakes petit fours simple gift decoration idea green piping

PS they also looked cute in little petit four cake cases, I’d suggest they’ll make an excellent present but realistically they didn’t last the weekend!

christmas tree chocolate brownie petit fours mini cupcake cases green tree yellow star

Red Velvet & Chocolate Reindeer Cupcakes

santas red nosed reindder cupcakes red velvet and chocolate christmas baking ideas

A couple of weeks ago I attended a work event where we had a quick team building session – cupcake making! The lovely lady who was running us through things had some fantastic Christmas ideas (you may have seen them over on my twitter). As soon as I clapped eyes on her reindeer cakes I knew they’d be perfect for the primary school Christmas fair I’m attending over in Leicestershire today.

To make them extra festive I decided to do a red velvet cake, in a red paper cupcake case. I didn’t have the ingredients in for a ‘traditional’ red velvet recipe so I adapted a chocolate one I knew would work well.

This recipe is from my much-loved Be-Ro book – you can see it’s had plenty of use and I’ve only had it about 5 years! It had quite a low cocoa content anyway, so I upped the vanilla to a teaspoon, and added a good amount of red gel food colouring to get the colour.
I also didn’t have any evaporated milk – but as this is essentially just concentrated milk, I used 90ml of regular milk and omitted the water.

milk chocolate cake recipe adapted to make red velvet ingredients classic british bero

As the cupcakes were much smaller than the big cake in the recipe they needed less baking time – they took about 12 minutes at 180 in my fan oven.

red velvet chocolate cake cupcake wrappers baking tray christmas ideas

To decorate it was chocolate all the way! First I whipped up some chocolate butter cream (simply using butter, icing sugar, and cocoa), before piping onto the cakes using a wide star nozzle. I quickly topped with the first chocolately decorations – two Cadbury chocolate pretzels for antlers, and a chocolate button to form the base for the nose.

reindeer chocolate red velvet cupcakes pretzel antlers christmas

The red Rudolph nose was as a simple as a chocolate button – ‘glued’ into place with a little leftover buttercream.

red chocolate bean nose on chocolate bun with swirl icing using star nozzle how to make reindeer cupcakes for christmas

Finally I was left with the eyes – these presented more of a challenge as I didn’t want to pipe straight onto the cakes for fear of messing the whole thing up! Luckily I found these great sugar sprinkles in the supermarket, the white ones were perfect (and I’m sure the pink ones will come in useful some cake down the line):

dr oetker pink and white polka dots sugar sprinkles making googly cartoon ideas for cupcakes

To the white discs I added small blobs of black royal icing, very carefully dabbed on using the end of a cocktail stick. I made a whole plateful of googly eyes so it was easier to match up pairs – I didn’t want boss-eyed reindeer!

eyes for cartoon reindeer cupcakes googly black and white painted

These were glued in place with a tiny bit more butter cream. If I’d have been organised I’d have made the eyes in advance so they could be stuck on as soon as the icing was in place… but, well, if you saw the state of my kitchen, you’d understand organised isn’t really a word in vocabulary…!

christmas red velvet reindeer cupcake chocolate pretzel antlers red nose rudolph

They are seriously some of the cutest cupcakes I think I’ve ever made – and combine all the classic food groups of chocolate, cake, and sweets. I hope the kids like them as much as I do!

chocolate red velvet reindeer cupcakes decorated with pretzels buttons beans and sugar sprinkle eyes christmas baking

red velvet and milk chocolate cupcake pretzel buttons and smarties kids baking for christmas rudolph