Last-minute gifts from the kitchen

Christmas Cookies in a jar

Thanks for all of your lovely comments on the last couple of posts as we’ve prepared the house for the holidays. We’ve had a lovely weekend getting into the swing of Christmas with visiting family; the meringue wreath was mercifully able to be resurrected, the turkey was wrestled successfully into the oven without any limbs needing to be sawn off, and Harry was initiated into the tradition of family games.  Sardines saw 9  grown adults wedged variously into a bunk bed, a small airing cupboard and under an occasional table, and Twister swiftly revealed just who had been conscientious in their yoga practice this year.  I write to you from the sofa, in a happy haze of leftover Prosecco, with several joints iced-up and immobilised.

Anyway, to business, and to a last-minute gift that I promise you can knock up in the time it takes to run a bath, and which will wow with its homespun thoughtfulness.  Trust me.

Every year, I make spiced oatmeal and raisin cookies for Christmas and every year, I end up scribbling the recipe down for friends who are already planning how to secure some more, even before the last crumbs are brushed away.  They require very little skill and are actually supposed to look uneven and bumpy, and that to me qualifies them as being just about the perfect cookie to make.

christmas cookies

This year I’ve distilled the recipe into a jar, adding the dry ingredients in layers and attaching baking instructions listing the steps needed and additional ingredients (an egg and butter, very easy).  I’ve uploaded some printables below, so that once you’ve raided the cupboards and filled your jars, you can just print out the swing tags and you’re ready to go.

An important caveat for chefs and gourmands; combining all the dry ingredients in this way is not quite as good as taking a conventional step-wise approach and mixing butter and sugars before adding flour, and raisins last etc; if you are gifting to a cookie connoisseur with a refined  palate, this may matter.  For the rest of us – they’re yummy.

To fill your jars (I used 1 litre jars; try Kilner or the Korken range at IKEA) you’ll need: (if you’re in North America and work in cup measurements, try this recipe which helpfully is designed for a jar too and is similar):

  •  130g Caster sugar
  • 130g soft brown sugar
  • 60g rolled oats
  • 180g plain flour, mixed with 1/2 tsp of bicarb of soda, 1 tsp cinnamon and 1tsp ginger
  • 120g raisins
  • 200g icing sugar.

Pour all of the ingredients into the jar in layers, in the order described, tapping the jar gently to level each layer out before adding the next.  Try spooning them in if you find it easier.  For the icing sugar, put this into a separate small bag and add last before sealing the jar; this is for the icing so will be used when the cookies are baked.

Spiced Christmas cookies in a jar

Recipients of your gift can just pour the contents of the jar into a bowl, stir well and then add a beaten egg and 150g of softened butter, and the cookies are ready to roll into balls and bake.  Once cooled, they can be drizzled with icing.  I added a little jar of white chocolate stars and a wooden spoon with each gift this year; you could also accessorise with any pretty sprinkles or with chopped nuts, for example.

If you click on the links below you’ll find these labels; just cut out and glue front to back before tying on with ribbon.

Christmas Cookies Front


Christmas Cookies Back


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Christmas Cookie Printable FRONT

Christmas Cookie Printable BACK

Home Harvest

Blackberry and Pear Crumble with Pistachio Crust

How was your weekend?  I hope it was a lovely one.  We had a decidedly autumnal couple of days, with misty mornings and cool evenings punctuating the bursts of heat and sunshine in between.  We had an amazing evening on Friday at the Luna Cinema, watching a movie under the stars whilst swaddled in blankets and sipping wine; as Friday nights go, it was hard to beat.  Picnics too take on a whole new dimension when you’re unable to see what you’re rummaging for in the basket; we did eat the strangest combination of things.

Our main activity this weekend though was harvesting and foraging, gathering pears and blackberries from the garden to see us through the next couple of seasons.  We began with pears… very small, wrinkly and peculiarly shaped ones, but they taste delicious nonetheless..

Home Harvest

Harry was in charge of quality control, checking for holes, bite-marks and signs that we’d been beaten to the chase by other inhabitants of the garden.  He takes after his dad and is able to do this calmly and methodically, and not run screaming to the house in hysterics every time he finds a worm (guilty as charged…).

Gathering Pears for Autumn

The quirky summer weather has produced masses of early blackberries, which unlike the pears are super-sized and super-juicy.  I flash-froze tray after tray before packaging them up like marbles, and now have a freezer-full of strangely shaped bags of bobbly purple fruit.

frezzing blackberries

Last year we experimented with blackberry jam-making, but this weekend we wanted a more immediate treat, so I tried this recipe from James Martin for pear and blackberry crumble… and can officially declare it to be delicious.  I tweaked the quantities a little (my version below); if you’re working in US measurements, all you need to remember for the filling is a rough ratio of 3:1 for the pear vs the blackberries – though of course the beauty of crumbles is that you can customise it is much as you like…

Pear and Blackberry crumble recipe

Finally, we gathered up all of the pears we had left over and arranged them amongst tissue paper in a couple of spare shoeboxes; I pasted a picture of our morning’s efforts to the inside lid and we’ll take them to local friends.  Harry has certified each to be worm-free, and his word is good :-)

a box of pears

And now we’re back into the hurly-burly of the working week; thankfully without the frantic checking of school kit and the shock of early mornings and routine which rushed at us last week; we’re in our groove again now.  At least, today we were..

Thank you incidentally for the lovely comments about our puppet theatre, and the stories and memories shared – it’s so lovely when a conversation unfolds!

Have a great rest of the week.

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A Cupcake Armada (and back to school fever!)

Cupcake Armada

How are you?  Today feels like the last day of the long summer break, before school and work restart in earnest next week.  An amazing summer of long hot days, evenings without bedtime curfews and delicious expanses of family time.  A summer too of sporting achievements; armbands are now permanently consigned to the loft and Harry is confidently afloat and swimming like a fish (albeit a wriggling, giggling one, who is liable to take onboard water in moments of distraction…).

We’ve also had the time to make progress with more of the house redesign and decor, tackling the upstairs rooms a little at a time; so exciting.  And many more projects in the pipeline… but more on that in a minute.

First though, a fun papercraft-and-cake project from this week (combinations don’t come much better than that, surely); a practice-run of ideas for friends who want to have homemade vibrant and fun cupcakes at their seaside wedding instead of a traditional cake.

cupcake sails 07

I wanted to create the impression of masted sails and chose long wooden barbecue skewers and strips of brightly coloured paper to create the effect.  For the pattern – which reminded me of swirling sea colours but also picked out the pink theme colour of the wedding – I downloaded one of the wonderful free watercolour designs by Yao Cheng for DLF , cropped it into long rectangle shapes and then added some text in Powerpoint (below).  If you don’t need to add writing, I’d just chose a lovely patterned sheet of gift wrap and cut out rectangles of about 2×5 inches.

cupcake sails 02

I painted each skewer with food colouring; you can do this neat from the bottle or dilute for a more subtle colour.  I left the bottom of the skewers unpainted but of course the beauty of the food colouring is it’s completely non-toxic and safe to be thrust deep into sponge…

cupcake 04

I threaded the paper onto the skewer and then pushed a small pearl bead onto each skewer tip both for decorative effect and to avoid any partygoers accidentally poking themselves in the eye when leaning over to choose their cake.. and also strung a few tiny bells randomly on the mast tops..

cupcake sails 05

Ta-da; the finished cupcakes!  Easy to produce en masse but equally fun just to make for teatime.

cupcake sails 07

 In other news… Harry and I have been embarking on a rather more substantial project this month; remember the Parisian Play Shop?  It was well-loved and well-played with for about a year but gradually became a dumping ground for all kinds of toys, books and half-built Lego models.  Whilst the play kitchen is very much still in active use, and acts like a magnet for any little girls who happen to be passing through, the shop seemed to have run its course, so I moved it to the loft to create space and forgot about it.

But then, this summer we stumbled across a pop-up puppet show in the local park – and Harry was absolutely transfixed.  There’s something about the slapstick comedy and audience participation which completely captured his imagination and made him chuckle whenever he thought about it for days afterwards.  So… we’re building a puppet theatre together, where we can stage our own plays at home.  I began by bashing out the top shelf and getting a large hole cut out from the back..

puppet theatre in progress

and finished up…….

starlight puppet theatre DIY

…well, I think we’ll open the theatre officially with a Grand Reveal next week, when our finishing touches are complete. We have some rehearsing to do after all :-)

Have a great weekend when it comes; I’ll be making the most of the last couple of days of lie-ins and sunshine, in-between stitching in name tags and retrieving long-abandoned school kit from corners around the house..

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Molten chocolate fondants with sea-salt caramel sauce; calorie-free! (not really..)

chocolate fondant pots with seasalt caramel sauce

A quick post today in case you’re looking for culinary inspiration for the weekend…. I’m preparing molten chocolate fondants for dinner with friends tonight, and they’ve become a fail-safe favourite.  The brave will tackle these with relish and determination, stopping only when there is not a crumb or smudge of warm chocolate left, but even those who usually decline desserts tend to manage a spoonful or three.

My recipe is a composite of numerous ones I’ve tried; I think that every cookbook tends to have one.  The beauty of these though is that you can prepare them the evening before and just pop them in the oven when everyone is still congratulating you on the main course (at least in the fantasy world of how you imagine that the evening will go..).  After just 10-12 minutes they will be lightly crusted on top, cake-like at the sides and full of molten deliciousness in the middle.  If you want to be extraordinarily clever and are one of life’s risk-takers, you can actually tip these out of the ramekins or pots at the table, to oohs and ahhs of surprise.  Me?  I keep them in the pan; these mini Mauviel pans I found at an antiques fair last year;

Mauviel pans

Here’s the recipe, which makes 6 pots…..

Chocolate fondant recipe

When they come out of the oven, they will be beautifully soft and molten in the middle..

Molten fondant pots with seasalt caramel

For the salted caramel sauce, look no further than Nigella, who has this easy-to-follow recipe for whipping up a generous amount with relatively little effort.  Or, if you’re like me and value a short-cut, look no further than the shelves of M&S or any good supermarket for a jar of it, and hope that your guests will be so distracted by your obviously-homemade fondant that they fail to ask how you made the salted caramel sauce.  If cornered, quote Nigella.  You can also use dulce de leche and add a few flakes of fleur de sel on top, as in my pictures above; drizzle it over the pudding and then stir in as you break the top…

fondant pots with salted caramel sauce

And then if you’re feeling virtuous, run for approx. 6hrs on a treadmill to ensure that your dinner is calorie-neutral.

But then, where’s the fun in that?

Have a great weekend!

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Hot chocolate fondants from katescreativespace

Fathers Day (and the often surprising Language of Flowers)

gingerbread matchsticks

There’s a sense of feverish anticipation in our household as the week draws to a close and preparations for Fathers Day can begin in earnest.  Harry has been busy card-making and tip-toeing around with carefully rolled up artworks, whispering ‘Shhh!’ loudly whenever my husband enters the room.  My efforts have been more culinary in nature, experimenting with making giant gingerbread matchsticks (above).

For those who are wondering what on earth has possessed me, I confess that I was a devoted follower of the Great British Bake Off series, during which one contestant – the impressive Frances Quinn – created a beautifully presented box of breadsticks disguised as matches.  She had spiced them with ginger and chilli and they were startlingly beautiful and uniform as they lined up, elegantly inside her giant matchbox.  I was in awe.

I have no idea how she managed it, but I’ve been having a play using my usual gingerbread recipe; I rolled out the dough into slim sausages and aimed for a vague uniformity of shape and size.  After baking for 6-8mins and leaving to cool, I dipped the ends in melted dark chocolate…

chocolate dipped gingerbread sticks

Then took a supermarket breadstick box and covered it with a homemade wrapper (if you’re at all interested in making these, my file is attached below as a PDF)..

Edible Breadstick Box Design

Edible Matches

Lest these appear dainty and petits-four-esque, here’s Harry to demonstrate the scale of these babies; less than 500 calories in each I can promise you.  Probably.  Start the day with one of these on Sunday and I guarantee it will be a pretty relaxed day, focused mostly on digestion.



Edible Matches top and sides PDF

Edible Matches Blank PDF

 In other news…

I’ve just finished reading The Language of Flowers, which I loved; have you read it?.  Given it spent years on the NYT best-sellers list, I realise I am somewhat behind the curve here (again), but nonetheless it was a great novel to stumble across.  Hard to explain, but beautiful to read, and it sparked my curiosity about the fact that the Victorians assigned meanings to each flower and used them to communicate messages and sentiments.  Whether it be friendship, luck, enduring love or hope that you are seeking to convey, there’s a flower at the ready to bring this to life.

I was discussing this with a friend and we decided to look up the flowers we’d chosen for our respective wedding bouquets. Ginnie had chosen purple irises, which revealed themselves to be ‘a sign of our enduring friendship and love’.  Very apt.  ‘Google orchids’, I cried; ‘my whole bouquet was orchids!’.  We waited…

‘Testicles!’  Said Ginnie.  ’It means testicles, from the Greek apparently!’.  It appears I walked down the aisle clutching a message that my husband cheerfully interpreted as a sign of my inherent manliness.  The wedding photos will never be the same again…

wedding master shot

After further searching, orchids were revealed elsewhere to signify ‘mature love’ (which is slightly better of course, although now I feel rather like Elizabeth Taylor or Zsa Zsa Gabor).  Would you choose flowers with their meaning in mind?  The risk is that definitions and interpretations vary wildly, but here’s a guide from Vanessa Diffenbaugh to get you started if you want to do some detective work.  Just don’t ever give anyone a pot of basil without being prepared for the consequences…

have a great weekend – and thanks again for all the wonderful suggestions about our California trip last week; it’s been a joy reading them all and making plans!


p.s. Some Fathers Day ideas from last year.


California Dreaming (and other weekend notes)


Are you having a lovely weekend? We’ve had a blissfully relaxed one after another hectic week, and have managed to plan a getaway for later in the year – to California! We had an amazing time in New England last October so have pooled airmiles and co-ordinated dates and this time we’re heading for the west coast; I’m already ridiculously excited.  We’ll fly in and out of San Francisco in late October but beyond that we have 12 days of completely free time to explore the coast and travel around.  As always, if you have any tips or recommendations I would love to hear; particularly for unusual or interesting places to stay or must-visit stops along the route.  We’re planning to travel at least some of the way between SF and LA, but beyond that have no fixed ideas.

Holiday-plannng aside, it’s been a rambling weekend of small domestic pleasures, enhanced by the sunshine and luxury of open doors and ambient breezes.  Like these peonies; surely the ultimate summer flower, which have been slowly unfurling on my bedside table and making me smile…


…and Saturday morning’s traditional baking foray; this week I adapted a basic sponge cake recipe by adding a cup of desiccated coconut and a generous handful of raspberries, and christening my new bundt pan; it produced a deliciously more-ish cake which was photo-bombed by a small and hungry footballer even as I arranged these shots;

raspberry bundt cake

bundt thief

So then we all had to have a slice…

bundt crumbs

The conservatory continues to be a source of endless pleasure and new discoveries; this week the mouse melons had a growth spurt so I potted them up into old tin cans which I decorated, and handed out to friends;

Mouse Melons

…and I continued to sporadically photo and document the growth of everything else whenever I had the camera to hand… we tried deep-frying courgette/zucchini flowers for the first time and felt very cosmopolitan (though lest you think this typical of our weeknight-suppers, let me point you back to the old baked bean cans above, of which we have an embarrassing number..)

Cucumber F1 Botanical Journal

Zuccini flowers

And finally we went adventuring, setting up camp in a local forest for a couple of hours and having a spontaneous picnic whilst keeping a weather eye out for the myriad of friendly dogs who appeared every time we rustled the sandwich bag.  I took along Harry’s IKEA play canopy (a steal at about £8, and used relentlessly for all different kinds of activities).

picnic in the woods

And now we still have the evening left, perhaps a warm enough one to sit outside with a glass of wine and unfurl our newly purchased map of California, savouring the last few hours of the weekend. I hope yours has been a good one too.


Illustrated map (top) by the wonderful Martin Haake

The Great Asparagus Debate

Asparagus Ricotta and Pink Peppercorn Tart

How was your weekend?  We had a gloriously hot one, the kind that tempts you into thinking summer is just around the corner and leaves a nation of oddly-sunburned yet exuberant workers heading for the office on Monday whilst trying to remember how to locate the car air-conditioning, last used circa 1986.

We made the most of the sunshine with a weekend spent largely outdoors, venturing only to a local farm to pick the first of the season’s asparagus….

Asparagus picking

I had briefly contemplated adding asparagus to our growing kitchen garden, but the fact that you have to wait three whole years before harvesting your first crop  saw it struck swiftly from our list.  That and the vivid descriptions of the ferocious asparagus beetle with its red thorax and many sets of legs (okay, six legs.  And it seemed even more ferocious when I misread its size as being 6 inches rather than 6mm.  But I digress..). We roamed the avenues of spears, selecting those with fat stems and a general air of perkiness…

asparagus trug

Rinsed asparagus

Once home, I constructed these tarts in a somewhat ad-hoc manner, adding together ingredients which I thought would work – asparagus, lemon, ricotta, peppercorns and a dash of balsamic – and hallelujah, they were delicious.  My husband will agree that not all of my creative recipe-generation is successful, but these were the exception and so I share with pride;

asparagus tart recipe

As the tarts were baking I drizzled some vine tomatoes with oil and grilled them; lovely on the side or (as we had them) piled on top of the tarts to make a decadent yet easy lunch.

Asparagus and lemon tarts

Despite their beauty, Harry was decidedly unconvinced by asparagus, even after we told him about the exciting sulphuric effects it might have later.  A suggestion from Harry then is that if you pick the asparagus off these tarts, they are even more delicious.  Hmm… I beg to differ.

Asparagus for lunch

p.s. Another super-easy tart recipe here, and my other favourite asparagus dish here.

Have a great week!


Quick tricks: Monogram Cake Seals

DIY Fondant cake seals

A quick DIY for you to try this week, and one of those delicious ones which is simple to do but will (hopefully) provoke gasps of admiration from friends when you reveal your efforts. Inspired by seeing little monogrammed patisseries in Paris last year, I experimented by rolling little balls of fondant icing and stamping them with a regular wax seal embosser (most good stationers and craft stores sell these).  I have one with my initial on, so as of today all baked goods emerging from our kitchen will be branded as MINE. Ha! DIY Cake Monograms
You can do this with any store-bought or homemade fondant; I keep an airtight tin of leftover bits from projects like Harry’s pirate ship cake and the Star Wars cookies of last week.  Simply roll little balls and then press the seal into them before gently lifting or peeling off.  Put a dab of cooking oil on the seal first if your fondant is quite sticky.  For these I used a buff coloured fondant and then brushed it with edible gold powder.  the fondant hardens slightly as it dries, making it pretty robust and ensuring that it holds the pattern or monogram beautifully…

DIY gilded fondant cake seals

Monogram cucpakes from katescreativespace

I also made some monograms from red fondant and sprayed them lightly with sparkly lustre spray and used them to decorate some mini raspberry and lemon loaf cakes…

DIY monogram and rose petal loaf cakes

You can keep the monograms for a couple of weeks in an airtight container, and they look gorgeous on all manner of things (envelope cookies, perhaps?).  Harry’s not fussed about the cakes but loves eating just the seals; one per day, as an after-tea treat.  Simple pleasures….

In other news, to highlight the extremes of my life I will be setting aside sugarcraft and tomorrow plunging from a rope into a huge vat of freezing mud, having foolishly entered a local MudRun race; 7.5km with 60 military-style obstacles, in what promises to be torrential rain.  For those who are unfamiliar with such events, this is a typical photo;


(I love the sunglasses don’t you?  A sort of triumph of optimism…).  I’ve not done an event like this before – nor, I suspect, will I ever do one again – but Harry is very excited and has promised to cheer me on.  ’Daddy and I will bring you a towel and Daddy says you can take all your clothes off before you get back in the car’.

Have a warmer, dryer, cleaner weekend, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing!

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An Overture to Springtime…

You know what they say about the best laid plans and all that?  Well, our trip to Morocco was eventful but not quite in the ways we’d imagined; the temperature dropped like a stone from around 28C to just 8C, sending Marrakech into a state of shivery shock; our hotel had somehow over-booked itself, resulting in a midnight taxi ride across the city in search of a bed for the night, accompanied by the profusely apologetic manager (we found a new hotel and bed which looked fine in the dark, but were greeted by a curious family of cockroaches on waking – cue yet another relocation after breakfast…).  Even our eagerly awaited trip into the Atlas mountains had to be abandoned as thick fog rendered the narrow hill roads too dangerous to be easily navigated.

A disappointment, for sure, but an experience so populated by adverse events that it quickly became funny, in that sort of mildly hysterically way when things spiral completely beyond your control.  Even then there were highlights; freshly squeezed local orange juice in the Jemaa el-Fnaa, the universally lovely and helpful people, and the rose petals, everywhere… beauty amidst the chaos which leaves us keen to return, albeit probably not in February.

Back home we tried to coax a little Spring sunshine and cheer ourselves up by throwing an impromptu dinner party on Friday night.

Paper Boat Placenames

I swiftly made paper boat name settings for everyone, and Harry and I dunked handfuls of curly kale into poster paint to make a fun sea foam for them to rest on (I’ll post a proper DIY for these in the week together with the patterns to download – a very easy yet lovely ‘make’ to do with a glass of wine in hand, and a little gift for friends to take home afterwards).  Along the table centre I placed random kitchen accessories and pots of herbs – anything that made me think of spring or summer, like fresh basil and lemons…

Springtime Tablescape

Fresh basil table centre


Bowl of fresh lemons Breadsticks


We had such a good night, in the way that often happens when you don’t have much time to plan and just throw people and food together; a lovely way to end the week and start the weekend.

In other news, remember my intent to start a proper glasshouse this year and your suggestions of Meyer lemon trees and other great plants?  My newly acquired lemon tree is looking beautiful and promising abundant bounty; whilst I can’t claim responsibility for the current crop of lemons, new flower buds have appeared all over in the last couple of weeks and suggest that it’s thriving; I’m very proud :-)

Meyer Lemon TreeMeyer Lemon Flowerbuds

Harry and I also took the opportunity of half-term to get busy in the kitchen, making Star Wars cookies using our newly-acquired cookie cutters from here (US Star Wars fans can find the same ones on sale here –  a bargain!).  We made basic sugar cookies and then rolled out fondant icing to stamp the toppings; C3PO also benefits from a light dusting of gold powder (we do love a bit of bling).

Star Wars Cookies

And finally, our cake-in-the-house Saturday ritual continues; this week it was lemon drizzle loaf cake, now just a scattering of crumbs.  Next week it’s back to work, and the gym, and a more abstemious few days of salad – but not just yet…it is Sunday evening after all.

Cake In The House

Have a great week, wherever you are and whatever you’ve got planned.

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Weekend Rituals: Cake in the House

Marmalade Loaf Cake

Saturday morning signifies the start of our weekend slowdown; the usual weekday hustle to leave the house before sunrise is abandoned and we amble around in pyjamas for as long as possible, revelling in being unwashed (Harry), unshaven (Mr B), and unflustered (me).  We have dance-offs in the kitchen, gradually drain the coffee pot and take our time over breakfast; it’s possibly my favourite time of the week. Recently, a new ritual has emerged; on Friday night Harry and I will choose a cake to bake, and then we’ll mix it up whilst we prepare breakfast on Saturday.  Something simple is the only rule; a toss-the-ingredients-in-the-mixer and-pour-into-a-loaf-tin kind of cake.  Harry goes off to his football lesson, and when he returns, bursting through the door in a spray of mud and exuberance, the cake is cooled, decorated, and ready to replace all the energy burnt off on the pitch.  This week we chose Nigel Slater’s Marmalade Cake, found by the lovely Gillian; we made a few tweaks to the recipe and I’ve decided it’s definitely a keeper… Marmalade Loaf Cake Ingredients If you’re used to working in US measures, try this classic pound cake recipe and simply adapt by adding 1/2 cup of marmalade and the zest of a large orange in with the eggs.  You’re left with a deliciously orange-y loaf cake that even marmalade-loathers will love.  I added crystallised orange slices to the top of ours; simply boil thin slices of orange in 250ml water and 100g of maple syrup for 15mins, then bake in a low oven for an hour to caramelise and crisp up… caramelised oranges And with all that orange goodness, I’m sure this would count as at least a portion of your 5-a-day fruit and veg, thereby making this practically healthy. Slice of cake I’ve become a little bit marmalade-obsessed at the moment, because buoyed by the success of last year’s Valentine’s gift, I’ve been making Mr B a year’s supply of the stuff.  Like Paddington Bear, he is bereft and unequipped for the world without a trusty jar to hand.  To counteract the relentless rain and gloom of January, I made some bright, zesty labels and  glued or tied them onto the vast array of jars and pots I needed to contain it all. Marmalade Jars Homemade Marmalade Tags

And this year, a confession; I’ve discovered the best cheat ingredient ever; pre-prepared oranges in a handy can.  No more grating, squeezing, pulping, shredding, slicing or straining – I felt almost guilty as I opened the newspaper and hummed blissfully whilst the marmalade bubbled away.  Almost.

Valentines Marmalade Jars

I hope that you had a lovely weekend, wherever you are and whatever you had planned.  We’re about to light the wood-burner and do some holiday planning for the year ahead; we’re going to hunt for a last-minute long weekend to escape the British weather, and are dreaming and scheming about our next big adventure for later in the year – New England will take some beating but it’s a challenge we’re looking forward to!

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p.s. Any suggestions for next Saturday’s cake?  We’ve tried lemon drizzle, gingerbread and cupcakes so far – if you’ve any (easy!) favourites I’d love to know…

p.p.s. Here’s a downloadable PDF of my marmalade labels in case you’re making your own…

Seville Orange Marmalade Labels

3 Ways with Christmas Cookies

Gifting Christmas Cookies

Cookies are a great last-minute gift; it’s lovely to arrive at other peoples’ houses bearing something homemade, and so Harry and I have been busy making cookies using the dough we froze earlier in the month.  First up, deliciously festive oatmeal cookies with a holiday twist, which we’ve packaged up with bells, ribbon and candy canes.

Fruit and Oat Star Spice Cookies

I used the fruit & oat cookie recipe from the wonderful Hummingbird Bakery cookbook, and simply doubled the measures of spices for a holiday feel.  Drizzled lemon icing and a scattering of white chocolate stars complete the cookie and raise them above the everyday… I’ve added the recipe at the bottom of the post; for the icing just mix together icing/powdered sugar with pure lemon juice until it drips off a fork, then drizzle lightly back and forth over the cooled cookies.  Our white chocolate stars are from here.

oatmeal and raisin cookies cooling cookies with drizzled icing

And two other cookie ideas from our kitchen for inspiration, both using the basic no-spread gingerbread recipe which I posted here; firstly Twinkle-Toe Gingerbread Men; the buttons are tiny chocolate beans held in place with a dab of icing; bakers’ twine scarves and a dusting of rianbow glitter on the hands and feet make them suitably christmassy….

Gingerbread TwinkleToes

And secondly a forest of decorated Gingerbread Spruce Trees, made by dusting the tops with a blend of edible food colouring powder (seen below), plus a dab of silver food powder, followed by a drizzle of icing and some carefully placed white shimmer baubles.  These were the first to disappear when we had friends and family over last weekend; a sure sign of their attractiveness!

spruce christmas cookies

Gingerbread forest gingerbread decorating kit

We’ll be out and about this weekend, delivering cookies and celebrating the season with friends; the blustery wind and rain make it slightly less festive than we’d hoped for, but are a very good excuse to stay inside in the warm.

Have a wonderful weekend wherever you are and whatever you’re doing!

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Basic oat & raisin cookie recipe from the Hummingbird Bakery;

(if you’re working in US cups & measures, try Martha’s gold-plated recipe here)

  • 270g unsalted butter
  • 160g caster sugar
  • 160g soft dark brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 0.5 tsp vanilla extract
  • 380g plain flour
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 0.5 tsp of ground cinnamon (I doubled this, and also added a pinch of nutmeg and allspice)
  • 110g rolled oats
  • 220g raisins

To make, simply mix together the butter and sugars, before stirring in the eggs and vanilla extract.  In a separate bowl, sieve together the flour, bicarb and cinnamon, then add the oats and stir together.  Add the butter mixture to the dry ingredients and stir into a ball.  Roll into small balls and place on a greased baking sheet, well-spaced as they will spread.  Bake for around 10 minutes at 170C/325F 9slightly less for chewier cookies and longer for crispy ones).