Baking

A Love Letter to Paris

ParisTraveler_Bicycle_pinup

Well hello, how are you?  I’m back from a few days away with my boys and am feeling refreshed, reinvigorated, renewed and all sorts of other startling words beginning with ‘re’ which provoke mild anxiety in those who know me, who rightly anticipate huge bursts of energy and vigour, just when they are ready to relax and chill out.  Whilst I’m still in holiday mode, I wanted to share the highlights of my recent Paris weekend – a quick visual feast if you have no intention of ever visiting, or possibly a resource to bookmark if you do.  Many of you added comments with some lovely ideas about where to visit which we loved (thank you); the sun shone, the Seine sparkled and we saw the city at its finest, beginning with;

Marais by katescreativespace

A big highlight for me were the endless stores dedicated to all things paper and craft, like this one;

Paris shopping guide by katescreativespace copy

In terms of food, we ate mostly at bistros and cafes, choosing freshly baked bread and pastries from the many patisseries for breakfast, but on our last day we treated ourselves;

Sunday brunch in Paris

We were both keen to try a cookery class when in Paris, so elected to study the art of the macaroon via an afternoon masterclass here

macaroon making by katescreativespace

And finally we squeezed in a couple of hours of window shopping and wandering back through the cobbled streets of the Marais, stumbling across some beautiful boutiques like La Chambre aux Confitures; a tiny place of worship for all things jam and jelly-related (fig, olive & nut jam to accompany your cheese plate, madame? Pas de probleme.  Strawberry & champagne jam for that special breakfast?  Mais oui!).  Then onto the magnificent windows of legendary ballet shop Repetto, piled high with shoes and bustling with young ballerinas eagerly queuing to try on the wares..

repetto store paris

lepetto ballet shoes

A wonderful weekend, and an inspiring one – I spent lots of time photographing amazing window displays and scribbling notes of things to try back home (watch this space..).

But now back to earth, and fortunately in our small corner of the world it’s an earth which is still basking in a heatwave, moderated by overnight showers which bring the garden back to life and cool the air.  It’s proven the perfect conditions for our sunflowers to give a final triumphant push for glory, and as I type they are teetering outside the window (note the carefully chosen words to indicate magnificent height and beanstalk-like prowess; we take competition very seriously…).  Photos and final measuring next time, once I’ve had the chance to add a last dash of plant food under cover of darkness.

Have a wonderful weekend, wherever you are; we have a night of outdoor theatre and picnicking to look forward to – summer at its best!

Kate x

nb all photos and illustrations in this post are my own, apart from the glorious Paris poster (top) from here

Strawberry Fields Forever…

No-bake strawberry cheesecake

We’re in the midst of a heatwave here, and it brings with it a huge wave of nostalgia for the long hot summers of my childhood.  I’ve been talking with Harry a lot about the things we used to do – running through sprinklers, building endless sandcastles, forts and dams at the beach, and picking soft fruit at farms along the roadside.  I promised him that we’d work our way through the same list too (and add a few more; because everyone should be allowed to create a new bit of history after all..), so last week we gathered up our hats, sturdy sandals and appetites and went in search of the first of the season’s strawberries…

Strawberry fields PYO

strawberry farm pick your own

the perfect strawberry

We picked and picked (and taste-tested) our way through the field until our punnets were full and our mouths a tell-tale red.  The picking was great fun in itself; the strawberries almost an afterthought.  We carefully transported them home and put them to good use, making no-bake strawberry cheesecake desserts, and then homemade strawberry cheesecake caramel ice-cream with the leftovers.  I promise you that these are both delicious and incredibly simple… give them a whirl;

Strawberry cheesecake recipe from KatesCreativeSpace

Firstly wash, hull and slice your strawberries into halves, then set aside…

chopped strawberries

Empty your biscuits/crackers into a plastic bag and bash with a rolling pin until they are nothing more than crumbs.  To help with this stage, imagine you are whacking a small critter that has shot out from under the cupboard, and needs to be stopped dead in its tracks.  Bash them a bit more.  Now tip into a bowl and pour over your melted butter, and stir well.  Heap spoonfuls of the crumb mixture into the base of 6 cocktail glasses (you can use to fill a standard 23cm baking pan if you’d rather make a single cheesecake).  Place in the fridge to chill.

digestives

Now for the cheesecake filling; blend together the cream cheese and icing sugar, and then scrape the vanilla seeds from the pod and add these in too, blending again.  Pour in the double cream and mix well.  Pour or spoon your mixture over the crumb base in the cocktail glasses (or pie dish), and then leave to set in the fridge for at least a couple of hours.

whisk

Now spoon your strawberries over the top and serve to gasps of admiration and gastronomic lust.  Honestly, trust me on this.  Visually, this is a just a more elegant way of serving a sort of deconstructed European cheesecake (never oven-baked, like those in North America, and thus a slightly sharper, more creamy taste).  You can prepare it ahead of time and whip out at the moment critique, and I’m all for desserts like that…

dessert trio

When I was playing around making these I ended up with more of the cheesecake base than I needed, so I was delighted to stumble across a recipe idea from Waitrose (pic below) for homemade strawberry & cookies ice-cream.  I adapted this and mixed my leftover crumb base with some slightly softened vanilla ice-cream, some chopped strawberries and a dollop of caramel sauce.  Mix it up well and then refreeze, and you have an awesomly more-ish homemade ice cream dish…

homemade strawberry cheesecake ice cream

So there you have it; a fun summer activity and then two divine desserts to make with the treasures you bring home.  Bliss…

And finally… thank you for the lovely comments and kind wishes for our wedding anniversary last week; we had a divinely decadent afternoon in the sunshine at a local hotel, being served a seemingly endless afternoon tea; I’m mildly ashamed to say we drank Assam despite the exotic array of teas on offer…

champagne afternoon tea

But were much more adventurous and dedicated in working our way through the entire dessert selection… champagne tea 2

And now I must go; penance beckons, in the form of a very long (and very slow) run…

Have a great sunshiny weekend when it comes!

Kate

Feast Days and Homecomings

Feast Days

Hello again!  It’s been a rollercoaster couple of weeks here, with my day-job taking me away on extended travels to India followed by heady reunions back home (things to remember always; the ‘welcome back mummy!’ signs tied to trees and gates all along our lane…).  I’ve spent the last few days playing catch-up, so this weekend was a chance to kick-back and relax with friends, hosting at home.  My best friend just scored a fantastic new job, so we took the opportunity to celebrate.  It was my favourite kind of meal; a small group of the loveliest of people, with a touch of style but no airs and graces, and the kind of menu that doesn’t suffer unduly if (umm, when) the wine flows too freely…

Preparation is everything, so Harry and I made a batch of parmesan and cracked black pepper oatcakes to go with cheese at the end of the evening.  I used this recipe which early readers of my blog will remember, and added a cupful of grated parmesan and a liberal dash of black pepper to the dough; they taste delicious and yet are extraordinarily simple…

Parmesan and Black Pepper Oatcakes

My other make-ahead element was individual heart-shaped Tartes au Citron, using ready-made pastry for speed.  Blind-bake your pastry and then beat together 5 eggs, 150ml double (heavy) cream, 150g caster sugar and the juice of 3 lemons, plus the zest of one lemon.  Pour into the case and bake for around 30mins if you’re making a single large tart or 15 mins for individual ones; this quantity will make you one large tart or 6 smaller ones.  I dusted with icing sugar and added fresh raspberries, serving with the leftover cream.

tarte au citron with raspberries

Asparagus is everywhere right now, enjoying its short but intense season.. I couldn’t miss the opportunity to use it, so served up a generous handful, steamed until just tender and topped with a poached egg and crumbled, grilled pancetta.  It’s a divine combination but definitely a make-in-the-moment dish; choose friends who will happily perch at chairs whilst you cook, topping up your glass and ignoring any eggshells you drop. Friends who can also be trusted not to eat all your crispy pancetta when your back is turned as you plate up the rest…

asparagus and pancetta

For the main course I grilled rustic lamp-burgers in ciabatta rolls on wooden chopping boards like these, topped with goats cheese, fig jam and served with a generous portion of oven-baked parmesan fries, from a recipe found here; you can almost convince yourself they’re healthy, though they tasted good enough to feel sinful.

To add a little style to the table I spritzed the tips of a handful of white feathers with spray glue and poured platinum glitter over them, before shaking off; they caught the light and sparkled subtly all evening; a 5 minute project which definitely punches above its weight.  (If feathers are your thing by the way, have a look at Pinterest, where they are definitely having a moment; craft projects for headdresses, garlands and gift-tags abound…)

glitter tipped feathers

glitter feathers

Our eclectic recent weather has done wonders for the garden, so I braved the rain to gather a handful of vibrant peonies for a dash of colour;

fresh peonies

And a final party trick; freezing slices of lemon leftover from the tarts into a cupcake tray to form over-sized colourful discs of ice to float in pitchers of water on the table.  Once frozen, I pop any excess discs out of the trays and store bagged up in the freezer for next time.  Smaller fruits like summer berries work beautifully when frozen in regular ice cube trays in the same way.

lemon slices in cupcake trays

Preparations done, it was time to celebrate;  homecomings and new jobs, friendships and feast days.  It’s a holiday weekend here in our small corner of the world, as I know it is for friends across the ocean; I hope that the sun is shining for you, and that summer feels close at hand…

champagne

Back next week for more crafts, and an update on the Great Sunflower Race (yay; we’re back in the game!); let me know how yours are doing if you’re growing them too…

Kate

Food for friends: Sunshine Apple Crisp

apple crisp with fork

It’s a glorious morning; the sun is shining, I’m surrounded by hungry boys (some borrowed, some home-grown), and we’re feeling in need of a treat.  Something quick, decadent and portable, that can be eaten on the lawn with fingers and requires little washing up.  Those of you who come here often will know that I don’t feature heaps of baking, but when I do it’s always simple food that requires almost no skill or experience; I know my limits.

A lightening quick post this week, therefore, with a lightening quick dish for Sunshine Apple Crisp.  It takes just a handful of minutes but will look as though you have slaved away for much longer – do not disabuse anyone of this notion.

Gala Apples

We found puff pastry in the freezer and apples in the fruit bowl; everything else you’ll probably have to hand.  You can use different kinds of sugar or different kinds of jam; you can even substitute apples for peaches or pear and it’s equally delicious.  Finer chefs than I might peel the fruit, or use a mandolin for finer slices, but I am a slapdash, carefree cook with scant concentration so you won’t see such guidance here.

Easy Apple Crisp Recipe

apple crisp cooling on tray

Eat in the garden where sticky fingers don’t matter and where spilled sugar and pastry crumbs can fall without consequence.

apple crisp serving ideas

Enjoy, enjoy!  … and I’ll see you after the weekend.

Kate

And now breathe…

egg hunt vintage bicycle sign

It’s been a glorious long weekend; a rich and hectic mêlée of friends and family coming and going, of feasts and wintery walks, with the frenetic, chocolate-fuelled hedonism of toddlers tempered  by evenings in front of the fire with a glass of wine and some exceptionally fine grown-up company.  It was blissful.

Today we had the long-awaited Great Egg Hunt, and the day dawned chilly and bright, with anticipation reaching fever pitch by lunchtime.  Eggs were laid throughout the garden, and this tantalising invitation was visible from the kitchen window and the driveway as Harry’s friends began to arrive…

easter egg hunt sign with bicycle and playhouse

Lola the rabbit  - Harry’s favourite hand puppet – welcomed guests from her lofty basket on this ancient delivery bike (another eBay find), surrounded by narcissi, balloons and golden chocolate eggs; a promise of what awaited our hunter-gatherers.

easter basket in bicycle

Inside the house, egg-hunting baskets stood ready for collection, from pint-sized hooped baskets for those still a little unsteady on their feet through to magnificent wicker hold-alls for those determined to speed like minesweepers through the undergrowth in search of every last egg…

easter baskets waiting for the egg hunt

The race was on; stragglers who were still wrestling with wellies or dithering over basket choice soon caught up and the hunt began in earnest

egg-hunting

Every garden nook and cranny was investigated in the hunt for Easter treasure

Playhouse

The eagle-eyed followed signs placed in vintage chimney pots and scattered throughout the garden…

egg hunt sign in chimney pot

egg hunt sign on bird table

The egg hunt was followed by a festive party tea of sandwiches and cakes for anyone who still had the space left for it after the chocolate-fest of the afternoon, then every small egg-hunter left with the contents of their basket and a bag of Bunny Tails, made by filling disposable icing bags with marshmallows and adding gift-wrap paper top cut with pinking shears and a free graphic from here;

DIY Easter Bunny Tails; marshmallow treats for Easter

easter bunny tails - marshmallow treats

Guests could also choose a bunny balloon, which I made by customising simple pearlised balloons with bunny ears cut from vellum, and a hand-drawn face.  I added a bow and then threaded and glued a stripy straw onto each stick (I got quite into this; I can forsee a future post with a menagerie of balloon animals; consider this fair warning..)

DIY bunny balloon

Bunny balloons

Tea was followed by games and general mayhem, as the sugar kicked-in.  The clear-up was worth it…. a day thoroughly well-spent.

honeycomb tissue balls strung on door

Tomorrow brings a return to the fray; nursery for Harry and work for us.  Bags must be packed and diaries checked; alarms set and clothes located.  Until then though, plenty of time for one more favourite activity.  This book might finally be the one I manage not to drop in the tub…

reading in the bathtub

In Praise of Simple Pleasures

I finished work this week, increasingly giddy with that end-of-term feeling that I’ve never quite managed to grow out of. I love my job, but the thought of hanging up briefcase and heels and simply nesting for 3 whole weeks is a wonderful one. With the recent intensity of work and the heady social chaos of the festive period, it feels like we’ve not quite seen enough of each other of late, and certainly haven’t seen much of the house in daylight hours. As a result, this weekend has been spent decorating for Christmas, eating hot, buttery crumpets, piling logs onto the fire and just enjoying being here, with each other, with no alarm clocks and no cause to rush.

small pleasures
It’s a time of contentment in simple pleasures, like the unwrapping and rediscovery of cherished ornaments, like these Faberge-esque beauties bought at the now defunct Smith & Hawken store in Manhattan on my first ever trip to the city a decade ago, along with a box of vibrant and perfectly round glass berries which catch the light and twinkle against bare branches which I’ve propped in vases and dotted about the house

S&H eggs
S&H berries
I’ve finally brought down the last of the boxes full of books which have been hidden up in the loft for the last year whilst we tackle the renovation, and spent a lovely hour picking out some old barely-remembered favourites to re-read over the holidays. They sit stacked full of promise on my bedside table, and the anticipation of losing myself in them again is half the pleasure. This year I’m hoping that Santa brings Nora Ephron’s poignant novel Heartburn, which I’ve inexplicably failed to read in the decades since it stormed the best seller lists.

reading pile

We’ve been filling the house with some of the treats I associate with childhood Christmas, like bowls of these fat satsumas, easy enough for Harry to peel without help and impossible to walk past without taking one…

satsumas
And pots and planters filled with cyclamen, one of my all-time favourite plants, with their plucky flowers which look like they’ve been blown upwards with a hairdryer – apparently fragile yet able to withstand freezing temperatures and the accidental casual neglect they suffer at our hands

cyclamen
And we’ve begun the process of decorating the house for Christmas, little by little. Whilst I sort of admire that Marthas of this world who can magic up a Christmas wonderland in the space of one night whilst the rest of the house sleeps, for us it tends to be a very gradual build of festive accents and treasures, as we build up to the big day. This weekend our log basket has gained a garland of Japanese origami paper lights;

concertina lights
And this salvaged barn star leans casually against the kitchen skirting

amish barn star
Whilst the ancient typewriter in our entrance hall hammers out a traditional carol

remington

I’ve added a few handmade decorations too this year, like the paper stars I posted about in November, and these star garlands, made by laying two flat star cut-outs on tops of each other and stitching together before bending out to form a 3d star. These look great if you use different but tonal colours (I layered yellow and orange, and red and pink), but also beautiful in a subtle, rustic way if you use plain white paper, newspaper or muted shades. Run them through your sewing machine and just pull out about an inch of extra thread between each one.

star garlands

As part of holiday preparations I also did a tour of the house changing out blown lightbulbs, and gathered quite a hoard, so – inspired by this idea – I’ve coated the candle bulbs in white glue and dipped in glitter to make these sparkly tree ornaments. To create hanging loops, I’ll thread yarn through a small button and glue it to the top of each bulb to hold it in place. I’m just deciding whether to use these as gift toppers, tree decor or to simply place in wine glasses for Christmassy evening dinners as a sparkly place setting for guests. I tried various different colours but loved the deep graphite-like grown-up sparkle of these ones the most.

glitter bulbs DIY
And finally I’ve of course been doing a bit of festive culinary experimentation, like making these Christmas tree pie-toppers from puff pastry and pink peppercorns; use them on tops of stews and casseroles or instead of a full pie crust. For sweet pies, I’d simply dust them with icing sugar and maybe use edible silver balls in place of the peppercorns.

puff pastry trees
My favourite of all though was finally getting round to making a Bûche de Noël – the English translation of a chocolate log is distinctly inferior to the magnificent French original, and this ganache-coated chocolate sponge will I think become a family favourite for the future. I added mushrooms fashioned from marzipan and gave it a festive coating of icing sugar ‘snow’ (which also helps to hide any heavy-handedness in the rolling process..)

buche de noel
And as you know, I can never resist adding a dash of pyrotechnics..

buche de noel

It’s been a weekend of nesting, of family and friends, and of holding each other a little tighter and counting our blessings as events unfold in the outside world.  I hope you had a good one, and that the world where you are is safe and warm.

Setting Sail!



‘Tis done! Construction on the birthday boy’s pirate ship is now complete, on schedule and on budget (and is possibly the only piece of construction ever done in our house which can make these claims).  Nobody would ever be bold enough to certify this seafaring vessel as watertight or fit to conquer the seven seas, but our fondant pirates don’t seem to mind.  It does at least creak authentically, due to the weight of the chocolate ganache, and lists atmospherically to one side, though this is more attributable to my lopsided baking than to the ocean wave.

Thank you for all the helpful comments and tips; I now feel like a fully-fledged member of the birthday-cake-baking community, at least for the next 10yrs until Harry officially declares homemade party cakes to be a bit lame and embarrassing, at which point I will hang up my spatula with a mixture of profound relief and dismay.  For those who are interested, allow me to take you on a tour of our galleon…



Our cheery-looking skipper is brandishing an unlit sparkler, ready to fire the canon; we’ll light this at the moment critique in lieu of candles.  The canon and canon balls are sculpted from fondant, rubbed lightly with edible silver dust and accessorised with silver balls.  A hidden cocktail stick secures the canon ball in the mouth of the canon; I’ve instructed my husband to try to rescue all the cocktail sticks before the eating begins.  He’s an ex-surgeon after all; he’s used to counting instruments in and out of cavities).  The steering wheel is the only inedible component, borrowed from Harry’s toy pirate ship when he protested that his cake must have a steering wheel; how right he is.

I made the sails by printing onto sheets of regular printer paper and then rubbing them with used teabags, and setting light to the edges.  It was a useful, if unintentional, way of checking that our smoke alarms are working well. (In my defence; yesterday was a VERY cold day to be faffing around outside with such things).  The bunting is not especially pirate-like, but makes our cake jolly rather than fierce, which is important when you’re staring down the barrel of only your third birthday.  I glued scraps of gift wrap onto sparkly thread and trimmed them into flag shapes.  The flags themselves are winched onto disposable BBQ kebab sticks.

My pirates are not afraid of their feminine side; they sport rose-gold earrings and suffer from rather womanly physiques; I left them looking perky and muscled and then came down this morning to find they had wilted into a sort of pear-shaped, who-ate-all-the-pies type slump. Pirate 2 looks like he is accessorising his outfit with a carefully chosen Chorizo sausage; it’s actually supposed to be a blingtastic gold trophy belt..

An equally heavyweight crow sits in his nest, surveying the seas; he wisely decided not to chance his luck on top of the mast and has taken up station at the rear of the ship instead, where a life ring is within easy reach if necessary.

So that’s all for now; we have a busy weekend ahead with Harry’s party, a grandmotherly visit, and also – excitingly – an away day for me and my mum to try a taster day of willow sculpting. Each year we try a course in some new skill which we are convinced will change our lives; industrial blacksmithing was one, flower painting another (we tend to extremes, as you see).  Mostly we drink a lot of coffee (or wine), gossip and plan projects way beyond our talent.  Tomorrow, for example, we have been led to believe we may create one of these;

Whereas I am secretly hoping I might knock up a herd of these, ready to strap to the roof of the car…

We shall see; I’ll let you know how I get on.  I’ll be back next week with 3 different kinds of stars to make for Christmas; have a wonderful weekend in the meantime, and a belated Happy Thanksgiving to all my lovely readers across the pond!

Willow image credits; 1)  Tir Grug Willow, Wales,  2) Cove Garden Nurseries, Devon

Whizz-Popping Lemony Cupcakes!



This weekend we had a party to go to; a back garden festival for kids on what turned out to be the hottest day of the year so far.  The kids stayed cool by shedding their clothes at the door and heading straight for the paddling pool; we watched from the shade and provided periodic gasps of awe and praise for their splashy, athletic endeavours.  My contribution to the communal feast was these zingy cupcakes, which I adapted from a basic Hummingbird Bakery recipe.  With a zesty lemon kick, whipped frosting and a sprinkling of explode-on-your-tongue popping candy, they are about as light and summery as cakes can be – and no matter how hot the weather, there’s always a place for cake…

Ingredients (makes 12 cupcakes):

  • 120g plain flour
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 1.5 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tblsp grated lemon zest
  • 40g unsalted butter, softened
  • 120ml whole milk
  • 1 egg

Set the oven to 170c/325f and set to work; place your dry ingredients, zest and butter in a mixer and beat together until sandy in texture, then add in the milk, before following with the egg.  Mix for a further couple of minutes until the mixture is smooth then spoon into cupcake cases, filling them about 2/3 full. Place in the oven for 20-25 minutes until they look like these (below), and in the meantime prepare your frosting…

Whizz-popping lemony frosting:

  • 250g icing sugar
  • 80g unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tsp Sicilian lemon extract or organic lemon flavouring
  • 25ml whole milk
  • curls of lemon zest for decoration
  • jar of popping candy. Mine was from here.

Beat together the sugar, butter and lemon extract, until fully mixed, then slowly add the milk.  Turn up your mixer to a high speed and beat for around 5mins until the frosting is super-smooth and light.  When the cakes are fully cooled, pipe the frosting onto each and allow to settle for a few minutes before adding the final touches..

I made these simple cake flags using my home printer, coloured paper, cocktail sticks and double-sided tape; place one in each cake and add a couple of swirls of lemon zest (make long strokes with your zester or grater to achieve this).  Finally, add a generous sprinkle of popping candy over the top; as it comes into contact with the cake it will crackle a little (it responds to any moisture), but there’ll still be plenty of pop left for the first mouthful of cake sometime later; if you listen closely enough you can hear it fizz…

Strawberry Cheesecake Cupcakes

The eagle-eyed will have noticed a distinct absence of decadent baking in recent posts, due in no small part to my determination to win our bikini-fit diet race (an alarming thought; my husband in a bikini – let’s hurriedly think of swim shorts).  Well, three weeks have passed and I have to confess that he has won, albeit narrowly. Still, second place is not to be sniffed at, so as he bounces lithely through the kitchen flexing his newly-evident abs, I am turning a blind eye and rewarding myself by baking a batch of these perky beauties (above & below), which after all are, ahem, mostly fruit…

I adapted a recipe from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook, substituting their digestive biscuit topping for freeze-dried, crumbled strawberries, and chopping the fruit finely into the sponge mixture for even distribution (the Hummingbird crew like to place strawberries directly into the cupcake cases for a fruity puddle at the base but I find that a bit gloopy for small fingers…).  The cream-cheese frosting offsets the sweetness of the sponge and the end result is a mixture of loveliness which is neither too sugary nor too tart – and just looking at them shining in their jaunty red and pink cups while the kettle boils for an accompanying cup of tea creates a sort of delicious anticipation…

To make the cakes…

Ingredients:

  • 120g plain flour
  • 140g caster sugar
  • 1.5tsp baking powder
  • 40g unsalted butter, softened
  • 120ml milk (they suggest whole milk but I use skim which works fine with less fat)
  • 0.5tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 12 large strawberries, finely chopped.

Mix together the dry ingredients then pour in the milk and vanilla and blend.  Beat the egg and mix in until well-incorporated.  Finally, fold in your finely chopped strawberries (or drop them into the cupcake cases if you prefer). Bake for 20mins at 170/325 degrees c/f.

And for the frosting…

  • 300g sifted icing sugar
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 125g cream cheese – use regular not reduced fat; the consistency of the latter is runnier and will affect the end result.
  • Dash of food colouring if desired – gel colour gives a lovely intensity and won’t make the frosting watery
  • freeze dried strawberries, sprinkles or other decorations – whatever takes your fancy!

Beat together the icing sugar and butter (I use my trusty Kitchenaid for this and indeed for all baking), then stir in the cream cheese straight out of the fridge.  I added a dash of red gel food colouring with a toothpick and gave a final blitz with the mixer for a soft pink tone and a hint of raspberry-ripple swirliness.  Pipe or spread onto the cakes when cool and then force yourself to jog around the block for 20mins in order to feel virtuous and entitled when you return… then EAT!

Tagged with Temptation!

Misery, misery; if there’s one thing worse than going on a diet, it’s going on a competitive diet, where every day begins with a gleeful shriek from one’s husband as he hops from the bathroom scales and punches the air at another ounce lost.  This all started last week when my husband decided to shed 7lb from his racing-snake physique ready for the beach and the annual donning of Speedos.  I offered to join him, then waited graciously for him to protest, lest I waste away altogether. ‘Excellent plan!’ he cried instead, rather too enthusiastically. ‘It’ll be a race!!’.  Honestly, MEN, I ask you….

One week in and I am falling behind, mysteriously.  Who knew that tomatoes gain so many calories when placed on top of a pizza?  Devious acts of sabotage are called for, so I am whipping up a frenzy of Siren-like temptation in the kitchen, hoping to stop his willpower in its tracks and give me a chance to catch up.  Let’s begin with these perky tea-bag cookies, inspired by a recipe from beautiful French website Le Petrin.  Deceptively petite, these look wantonly moreish, and the perfect accompaniment to an otherwise innocent cup of coffee…

I used a basic sugar cookie recipe (bottom), then rolled out the chilled dough onto a floured surface.  I trimmed a business card into a tag shape then glued a cork to one side to allow me to place and lift it with ease.  A pizza wheel proved perfect for cutting out the shapes without pulling on the cookie dough, and I used a drinking straw to punch a hole in each tag. I wanted to move the unbaked cookies as little as possible to help then retain their shape, so simply cut around them on baking parchment and slipped each one onto my baking sheet (2). When the cookies were cool, I melted a mixture of dark and milk chocolate chips to dip them into, then strung each cookie carefully onto a bamboo skewer to harden (4).  What you can’t see here is Harry lying hopefully on the floor beneath, waiting for drips to fall…

.

As a final touch, I strung initialled tags onto the cookies using vibrant, sparkly thread, ensuring of course a disproportionate number addressed to my husband. Now, where did I put those damned celery sticks?

Nigella’s Butter Cut-Out Cookie Recipe, from ‘How to Be a Domestic Goddess’:

Ingredients

Cookies:

  • 6 tablespoons soft unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Cream the butter and sugar together until pale and moving towards moussiness, then beat in the egg and vanilla. In another bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the butter and eggs, and mix gently but surely. If you think the finished mixture is too sticky to be rolled out, add more flour, but do so sparingly as too much will make the dough tough. Form into a fat disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and let rest in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour. When you’ve cut out the tag cookies and are ready to bake, they should take about 10mins, though check regularly.

A Taste of Summer

It’s raining again, plus ça change. In fact, I’m surprised that my predictive text function doesn’t automatically open each post with these words, so consistent is the dreary drizzle and grey skies.  We have chosen to rise above it and conjour up sunshine in the form of these individual bread rolls baked in terracotta flowerpots and bursting with sun blush tomatoes, feta cheese, rosemary and all manner of deliciousness.

I uncovered this recipe buried deep in a bulging and well-thumbed file entitled Magazine Clippings That Will Change My Life Or At Least Enhance It In Some Transient Way, and we set about making it this weekend.  We carefully selected some pots and gave them a good wash and burst in the oven to prepare them, then rolled up our sleeves and let loose.  Gorgeous as an accompaniment to soups and antipasti, they also went down a treat at our teddy bear Playroom Tea Party this morning, where a surprising number of rolls were nibbled and partially tasted, given that most participants were stuffed (literally), and only one, Harry, was technically capable of eating.  Hmmm… suspicious.

Recipe and tips below..

This recipe originally came from British foodie mag Delicious, and I’ve reproduced it faithfully below.  Uncharacteristically, we didn’t deviate from the instructions at all and they tasted divine; a more accomplished cook could play with a variety of substitutions and tweaks and produce some interesting variations.

Sunblush and Feta Flowerpot Bread. Ingredients & method:

  • 500g strong white bread flour
  • 7g fast acting dried yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 240g tub of sun blush tomatoes; set 8 aside before chopping the rest.
  • 150g crumbled feta
  • 2 tbsp freshly chopped rosemary plus some sprigs for decoration.
  1. Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl and stir in the yeast and chopped rosemary. Gradually mix in 250ml of warm water to form a loose dough, and add the chopped tomatoes and a tbsp of the oil from the tomatoes.
  2. Tip out onto a clean surface and knead the dough for 5minutes until smooth.  Add the crumbled feta and knead again until it is all incorporated into the dough. Separate into 8 evenly shaped balls and place each carefully in a well-oiled terracotta flowerpot (you could just place these in a muffin tin or on a baking sheet instead).
  3. Allow to rise for around 30mins, setting the oven for 220 degrees.
  4. Scatter the remaining crumbled feta over the top and add a single whole sun blush tomato to each (below). Thoroughly soak 8 small rosemary sprigs then gently push one into each flowerpot for decoration (the wetness will stop them from burning in the oven).

Bake for 20-25mins, then allow to cool for as long as you are able to restrain yourself; these are best served warm, so eat as quickly as possible or give them a quick turn in the oven before serving later (they last 2 -3 days if you can manage it).