Okay, okay, this isn’t a ‘recipe’. I know that, you know that, but it’s almost Christmas, so give me a break. READ MORE
Okay, okay, this isn’t a ‘recipe’. I know that, you know that, but it’s almost Christmas, so give me a break. READ MORE
When pregnant with my first son, making homemade Christmas tree decorations is something I really thought I’d do every year as a family tradition. I also thought I’d use bamboo nappies and make my own yoghurt. What can I say, I am not that mother. Not that I judge those women who do. We all use out time as we wish. READ MORE
I always feel going out on Valentine’s is a bit strange. I remember as a teen venturing out with my much older boyfriend (erm, me just 17 and him, ahem, 27… how to give your parents minor heart palpitations) and sitting in a restaurant marvelling at how all the couples looked like they hated each other. They sat in silence. Staring into the abyss. Of course now I realise they were probably just tired parents, relieved of their kids of the night. READ MORE
If you read women’s glossy magazines you’ll be well versed in the art directed images of Bonfire Night. Cosy looking smiley kids, wrapped up in matching striped hat, glove and mitten combos, a large bonfire lit in the background with caution over hedgehogs thrown to the wind, bowls of steaming soup, chilli and of course, toasted marshmallows on sticks served alongside whiskey laced hot chocolate (for the adults naturally).
Well, I’m here to inject a little reality into proceedings. Does any of this sound familiar?
Failure can be a good thing. Take London for example. The first time I took a solo trip to London it was a disaster.
In 1999 I was a fresher at Liverpool University, studying for a degree in English Language & Literature. One day I bought a copy of Vogue. Now given I was a chunky size 14 this was ill advised. However this copy did feature a writing competition. Which I of course, being full of arrogant youthfulness, entered.
Months later I received a very proper looking embossed letter telling me I hadn’t won, but I was a runner up. How exciting! Imagine! A girl from Leicester, via Liverpool, being invited to London! All the L’s and all the exclamations. At this point I should have been happy in my triumph, left it there and declined. But I didn’t.
I bought a pashmina. Because that’s what I imagined women in London who were invited to Vogue House might wear. It was beige. I also bought a pair of pedal pushers in a kind of gold colour. They fit badly and made my already reasonable sized backside look gargantuan. I also wore a white loose fitting peasant style T shirt. And heels. A pair of heels that barely fit, were again beige, and hurt considerably. Oh and a beige handbag that didn’t fit much in. Not an umbrella for instance.
But wait! The horror wasn’t complete! I decided, the night before I caught the train to London, from my teenage bedroom in Leicester, to fake tan my whole body.
Reader, I don’t think I need to tell you how bad I looked. A beige monstrosity, streaked in orange. It rained in London, as it often does, and I, being a girl from up North, had no idea that carrying an umbrella in the heat of the capital’s summer might be a good idea. I arrived; wet, streaked, stressed and beige.
I managed to sit through the lunch, in a panelled board room, with Alexandra Shulman (Editor), Miranda Sawyer (Journo) and Nick Hornby (Author), the latter whose work I bought days before to swot up on.
Shulman and I didn’t speak. I imagine she was concerned the beige horror might be a contagious disease. Sawyer chatted kindly, though clearly not engaged in anything a 19 year old student might have to say. (I don’t blame her). Nick was lovely. So interested in everyone. A real gent.
I took the Midland Mainline back to Leicester on the to pick up my Fiat Panda, feeling London was so very unattainable to me. I had embarrassed myself and done a disservice to every girl from the Midlands trying desperately to reinvent herself.
Just 3 years later I moved to London, again, solo. And it was anything but a disaster. I loved it. And I never wore a beige pashmina again. Or gold pedal pushers. (The same can’t be said for my love affair with ‘Holiday Skin’ fake tan).
I made a lovely video with the Scoff folks to show how to make these very easy white chocolate mousse eggs. You can see the vid on my YouTube channel and also the Scoff one. You can watch it below too.
White chocolate mousse eggs with lemon curd yolks
Makes about 9 though depends on the size of your chocolate eggs
For the curd:
For the mousse:
NB: These hollow eggs must be kept in the fridge until serving. It is advised not to serve raw eggs to young children, pregnant women or the elderly.
These are not easy to make.
They involve a lot of stages.
They require you to boil sugar.
They ask you to hunt out a sugar thermometer.
They get through almost a kilogram of chocolate.
You also need a stand mixer.
So really, all in all, I’m trying to manage your expectations. It’s not that I don’t want you to make them. I do. These are good. Oh my, they are GOOD. You could make yourself sick eating the whole lot and still want to go back for more. However, they’re a bit of a pain in the backside.
But like my good friend Kitty says about women – all the best ones are a bit of a pain in the backside. In my opinion, the same applies to chocolate-peanut snacks.
P.S. Please, please, please don’t sub the dry roasted peanuts for salted peanuts, or, heaven forbid, unsalted peanuts. They need to be dry roasted. I know it seems wrong, but just trust me on this one.
For the chocolate layers:
For the nougat:
For the caramel
Oil a tray size 30 x 40cm (ish) with a little olive oil and cut a piece of non-stick baking parchment to fit the bottom. Melt half the milk chocolate with 1 tbsp olive oil in the microwave until molten. Tip into the tray and level out by tapping the tin on the work surface. Leave to set in the fridge.
Once the chocolate has set, make the nougat by placing the granulated sugar, honey, liquid glucose and 230mls cold water into a saucepan over a low heat until the sugar dissolves. Turn up the heat and boil until it reaches 150°C (use a sugar thermometer).
Whisk the egg whites in a stand mixer with the whisk attachment until you achieve soft peaks, then when the sugar thermometer is at 160°C slowly pour the boiling sugar into the egg white mixture with the whisk rotating at a medium speed. Try and aim the sugar at the egg whites rather than at the edge of the bowl.
Let the mixer whisk for about 3 – 4 minutes at a high speed until the mixture is very thick, starts to pull away from the side of the bowl and the stand mixer feels like it might be struggling. Stop the mixer then add the peanut butter and stir with a spatula or spoon then tip onto the chocolate layer. Straight away, tip the dry roasted peanuts over the top evenly and then press down with a piece of oiled non-stick baking parchment. Leave to set.
Make the caramel by heating the cream in a pan until boiling point. At the same time heat the golden syrup and the granulated sugar in a large pan until 155°C (use a jam thermometer), then remove from the heat and stir in the just boiled cream with a wooden spoon. Be careful as it can spit. Leave off the heat for 5 minutes. Then put back on the hob and heat until 127°C. Once this temperature is achieved remove from the heat and stir in the butter – be careful as it bubbles up a fair amount. Leave to cool in the pan for 20 minutes.
When cool but still spreadable, pour over the peanut layer of the snickers bar and allow to set in the fridge. Use a knife to eek it over the peanut layer if you need to. When the caramel has set (give it at least an hour) melt the other half of the chocolate with 1 tbsp oil (as before) and pour over the caramel layer. Leave to set.
Once completely set use a knife to cut into squares/bars. You can dip the knife into hot water before cutting to achieve cleaner cuts.
Okay, we’re almost there. It’s Christmas Eve. Are you okay? Have you finished work yet? This is my last recipe before the big day. It’s a bit of fun for the school holidays. And if biscuits feel a step too far then use whatever’s languishing in the biscuit tin.
Melted snowman biscuits
Makes about 30 x 12cm biscuits
• 200g castor sugar
• 225g soft salted butter
• 1 large egg at room temperature
• 1 tbsp vanilla extract
• 385g plain flour
• 2 tsp baking powder
• 20g orange fondant icing
• Icing sugar
• 30 white marshmallows
• A black icing tube (can easily be found in the baking aisle)
• 90 small coloured sweets
Cream together the butter and sugar until really light and creamy looking – about 4 minutes in a stand mixer, about 6 with a handheld mixer of 8 – 10 by hand with a wooden spoon. Add the egg dribble by dribble, beating well after each addition. Lastly add the flour and baking powder and mix until combined. Use your hands to pull the mixture together, wrap in clingfilm and chill for 40 minutes.
Use a little flour to dredge the work surface and coat a rolling pin then roll the biscuit dough to about 3 – 4mm thick. Cut out circles about 12cm wide using a knife (they don’t need to be completely circular, they can happily be puddle shaped)and pop onto a baking tray (you can line with non stick parchment though these biscuits didn’t stick on my baking trays without it) then chill the whole tray in the fridge for 15 minutes. Meanwhile pre-heat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. (The chilling is what keeps the shape of the biscuits, as does the preheating of the oven – you need cold biscuits to hit a hot oven and immediately bake. Skipping either step can result in biscuits that spread. They’ll still taste fine but won’t look so pretty.)
Bake the chilled biscuits for 10 -12 minutes until they’re just starting to brown at the edges. Leave for 5 minutes to cool on the tray then carefully transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. In the meantime make 30 carrot noses with the orange fondant icing and set aside to harden.
Make some white icing by mixing the icing sugar with water until you have a stiff icing. Spread over each biscuit, add three sweets as buttons, place a marshmallow in the middle and add a fondant carrot nose (you can use icing to do this if it won’t push into the marshmallow) and draw on a mouth and two eyes with the black icing tube. Once the icing is dry draw on two stick arms using the icing tube. Leave to dry completely.
I have so much going on I can barely stop to talk. I really hate it when people do this – tell you how busy they are and then waste 15 precious minutes talking about their stress when they could be tacking their to do list. So I won’t. Instead I will just offer up something that is simply amazing. I don’t even like egg nog (the drink) but I do like these. Oh yes I do.
(P.S. If you are wondering about the other truffles in the picture then I also made orange truffles using this recipe and then rolled them in crushed Oreos. I used the same recipe to make coconut truffles, subbing the orange extract for Malibu and then rolling in desiccated coconut. I also rolled some egg nog truffles in nutmeg spiked icing sugar. They all keep for 1 week from making, provided your double cream has a use by date that doesn’t come before that. Keep in the fridge and bring to room temperature for 1 hour pre serving. And please, if you want to temper your chocolate then go ahead and do it, I just don’t have the time at the moment, nor to explain it. You may get a bloom on your chocolate coating if you don’t temper. It’s fine, it will still taste the same. Just sprinkle with more nutmeg. Did I mention how busy I am?)
Egg nog truffles
Makes about 30
Melt the chocolate, cream, brandy, nutmeg and cinnamon in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water, being careful not to let the bowl touch the water. Stir until completely smooth then chill for about 2 hours until hard.
Take a teaspoon and remove heaped spoons of the truffle mixture. Roll between your hands to form spheres. Place on a plate covered in non-stick paper and chill again for another hour.
Melt the chocolate using the same method as before. Dip each truffle into the chocolate using a spoon and fork. Drain as much chocolate from the truffle as possible and transfer to a tray lined with greaseproof paper. Grate a little nutmeg over each truffle. Leave to set either at room temperature or in the fridge, though be aware a bloom is more likely to develop on the chocolate if you use the faster fridge method.
Hands up who likes Christmas pudding? Mine is firmly up. I love the stuff. But not everyone does. For some it’s just a step too far after all the goose fat, carbs and sprouts. This is a great alternative to Xmas pud which masquerades as… you guessed it – Christmas pudding! Keeps for 2 weeks after making as long as stored in a cool, dark place. A bloom may develop after a week but this does not affect the flavour.
Tiffin Christmas pudding
Makes 1 x 2 pint pudding
Place the sultanas and brandy into a small pan and heat on low until the brandy absorbs, stirring all the time. Remove from the heat and leave to cool. Melt the butter, maple syrup, nutmeg, cinnamon, orange zest and chocolate in a bowl in the microwave until completely molten. Add the biscuits, cherries, hazelnuts and brandied sultanas. Stir well.
Take a 2 pint pudding bowl and line with clingfilm. Pour the mixture into it and pat down well. Cover with clingfilm and leave in the fridge to set for a few hours or overnight.
Remove from the pudding bowl (dip briefly in hot water in another bowl if it won’t come out) and remove the clingfilm. Place on a serving plate and decorate with melted white chocolate (allow to re-solidify before pouring) and holly.
I do love Halloween though I have never been trick or treating. It’s just not in my British nature to knock on someone’s door and give out ultimatums. I’d likely apologise or stutter. But any celebration where there’s even a sniff of novelty food up for grabs and I’m there. All over it.
I’ve been working with Flora lately to develop lots of spooky recipes and ideas. If you fancy hosting your own party then take a look at the ideas here in the Halloween Fun Pack from Flora. Loads of recipes from fiendish finger butter biscuits to pumpkin pie to a graveyard cake to pumpkin bread and of course some arts and crafts ideas. My own recipes for Flora include bloodshot eyeball truffles and treacle toffee flapjack. You can find both the recipes here. (And rather excitingly Flora will be giving away 5 copies of my book on Twitter in November. Follow them here).
Now I know that jelly worms have caused a few people some trouble. Here are mine; they happen to be nestling on a spiced apple cupcake covered in Oreo ‘dirt’. Full details of how to make them below.
I used two packs of regular full fat jelly (Hartleys I think) to make my worms. Just make up the jelly with half the amount of water it tells you to on the packet, then pour the jelly into a pint glass with lots of bendy straws jammed into it, bend side down, with the bend bit pulled apart and fully extended, but still straight. Leave to set overnight in the fridge, weighing down the tops of the straws if they’re bobbing upwards.
The next day fill a tall container up with half boiling water and half cold water. Remove a straw from the pint glass (makes a satisfying squelching sound) and then dip into the water for 1 second. Use your finger and thumb to squash the straw at the top (non bendy end) and push your finger and thumb pinched together all the way along the straw to push the worm out onto a plate. First time I did it the water was too hot and the worm melted. Poor worm! Experiment with the temperature of the water until your worms happily squash out without meeting a sticky end. I made about 35 worms I think with two packs of jelly but could probably have made more if I’d had more straws to jam into the pint glass.
If you want to make Oero ‘dirt’ firstly I should mention that I got the idea from a lovely lady called Jules who writes an excellent blog called Butcher, Baker and secondly I should mention you will make your life inordinately easier if you buy double chocolate Oero cookies with dark chocolate cream in the middle of the biscuits rather than the white stuff. This way you just blitz the lot in a food processor and the dirt is done. If you buy the variety with white cream then you need to remove this first and then blitz the biscuits. What a pain. I attached the dirt to the cupcakes by simply melting some milk chocolate and spreading a thin layer over the top of a cupcake. Then I dipped the still molten chocolate covered cake into a bowl of Oreo ‘dirt’. Done. You can of course use any excess dirt to sprinkle onto jelly’s and adorn with bugs:
All this dirt and bug chat may leave some in need of a drink. Never let the opportunity for novelty food fall at the hurdle of a thirst quencher. Try making these ice cubes with a scorpion or a skeleton frozen into them:
…so easy and yet so well received by the under 10’s. You could freeze spooky rings, necklaces or spiky false teeth too. And if you want to introduce fruit to a Halloween party without going to the trouble of apple bobbing then try these:
Just little nectarines, peeled and poked with celery to resemble pumpkins. Of course anything this healthy may need a savoury accompaniment. How about pepper noodle brains?
Of course, Halloween wouldn’t be Halloween without a sausage disguised as a Mummy with the aid of some pastry strips and an olive or two for eyes:
And last but not at all least, maybe try my bloodshot eyeball truffles. See if you can swallow them whole, pupils and all…
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Just sign up to receive my latest blog posts straight to your inbox: Simply click here.
P.S. To sign up for my free monthly newsletter just click here. It has a baking SOS, recommendations on bits of kit I can’t live without, my kitchen catastrophe of the month, a sneak preview of a recipe coming up on this blog and a letter from me telling you what I’ve been up to.
Remember to check your inbox for a confirmation email and also to add my email firstname.lastname@example.org to your contacts. Otherwise I could go to spam.