Christmas Gingerbread

gingerbread decorating

Last year I made my first gingerbread house and enjoyed the making and eating of it so much that I decided it should become an annual tradition for our little family.

This year, little M was old enough to join in the fun too. I decided to make some mini houses this year and also some gingerbread men. M got his own gingerbread man to decorate and had great fun smearing icing around and sticking sprinkles and sweets on. This lasted approximately 2 minutes. Then he happened to pop a sweet in his mouth and realised this craft project was edible and SWEET. Then that poor gingerbread man was history haha.

The rest of the gingerbread guys and gals are here:

gingerbread men and women

The mini houses were very easy to assemble compared to last years’ larger version but they didn’t come together quite how I’d imagined. I hate when that happens. Still, fun to make and more fun to demolish and eat!

mini gingerbread houses
mini gingerbread village

Experimenting with microwave chips

Recently, I came across a blog post featuring Sweet Potato Chips that immediately grabbed my attention. Why? Because these crispy, sweet chips were cooked in the microwave in mere minutes with absolutely no oil. Uh yes please!

I had to try it out immediately. I was beyond impressed when it actually worked. They tasted and crunched just like you’d expect from a regular fried chip. An entire sweet potato was demolished in minutes. Without the salt these chips were still great and made a perfect toddler snack from little m. A great way to sneak in more veges. I was intrigued by the possibilities of the microwave chip technique – what other vegetables could be chippified in this manner?… Butternut? Zucchini? Eggplant? Carrots? I had to find out!

microwave veg chips

Method: I sliced all the vegetables thinly (1-2mm) and cooked them on a sheet of microwavable baking parchment. I started by cooking on full power for 2-3 minutes then turned the chips and put back on for another 1-3 minutes. You need to keep a close eye on these as the cooking time will vary a lot depending on the power of your microwave, how thick the slices are, and the water content of the vegetables.

Here are my findings:

Aubergine (aka Eggplant) – Has potential. Crisped and crinkled in a nice way but the taste was lacking. Perhaps with the right seasoning and a great dip these would be better. Failed the toddler test.

aubergine chips

Parsnip – Disappointing. These looked great – firm with a nice wavy crinkle to them. But, they were tough and tasted bland, like raw parsnip cardboard.

parsnip chips

Butternut – Success. Sweet, crispy chips, much like sweet potato. These were great to eat and also passed the toddler test.

butternut chips

Apples – Success. I altered the cooking time/power level for these and they came out pretty good. 3 minutes on full power then 5 minutes on 30%. Passed the toddler test.

apple chips

Courgette (aka Zucchini) – Disaster. I suspect that the high water content in zucchini just doesn’t cook well using this method. They were soggy till they were mostly burnt then they went soggy again after cooling. Also tasted pretty bad. No surprises here really.

courgette chips

Carrots – Mixed results. For some reason the centre of the carrots cooked much faster than the rest. This resulted in charred, inedible centres while the rest of the carrot was still soft. I tried a second batch with holes punched out of the centre, these worked well and passed the toddler test… But the slicing and hole punching is a lot of work just for a handful of carrot crisps.

carrot chips
burnt carrot

Beetroot (aka beets) – So pretty! I didn’t enjoy the taste of these as much as I expected to but they were ok. These are probably best in moderation – sprinkled into a mix of other vege chips to add some colour and variety.

beetroot chips

I’d definitely make the sweet potato and butternut chips again and will probably experiment further with the apple chips too.

Festive Felt Garland

I’m in full-tilt Christmas mode right now. I can’t wait to shower the house in festive sparkle. I know some of you are nowhere near ready to consider Christmas yet… If that’s you then I’m sorry and I suggest you don’t come around here for the next few weeks ha!

My latest festive project is some felt garlands to decorate the staircase. I knew I wanted to make a garland using felt but wasn’t sure how to go about it. I turned to Google and of course found that lots of people have attempted felt garlands. I found this great tutorial for a simple felt garland inspired by some Anthropologie christmas decor.

Here’s my version:

felt garland
falt garland closeup

I made two of these, one for each flight of stairs. So simple! The cutting out took a few solid hours but it’s basic snipping that you can totally multitask. I’m really enjoying felt craft at the moment. Using felt means you don’t need to sew around edges and can throw together some super sweet projects all in the space of a naptime. I see more felt projects in my future.

Nativity Advent with Felt

Last christmas I came across this sweet nativity advent made of felt. I loved the idea and knew I had to make something similar for our home immediately. Unfortunately with traveling to New Zealand last December and arriving home a few days before Christmas with jet lag and colds… an advent calendar just didn’t make the schedule.

This year I’ve started early on the Christmas crafting and have a felt nativity advent completed and ready for December! I made mine in a red & neutral palette to match with our other decorations.

full nativity felt advent

I was feeling lazy so my felt figures are glued together rather than stitched.

detail felt nativity

I bought a cheap red 30x40cm nyttja frame from Ikea and popped some grey felt backing into it. The white polka dots are velcro spots so that all the nativity pieces can be added, day by day.

empty nativity advent

Full credit for this awesome advent design goes to the Barefoot in the Kitchen blog which you should totally check out. Thanks for the inspiration!

Rasberry Macarons with Chocolate Ganache Filling

Peeking anxiously through the oven door I was thrilled to see rows of smooth round tops with signature ruffly edges underneath. “Feet eeeeek! They have feet!!!” I gushed.

macaron shells

Jumping, clapping and happy dancing ensued.
Macarons have been my baking nemesis for some time now. I’ve attempted them many times without much success. They’ve been too flat, too hard, too soft, hollow, and missing their feet. Each time they flopped was a mini tragedy. They almost scared me off for good.

It’s been over a year since my last macaron attempt. This time I decided to try a different method. Instead of macarons with a french meringue base, I went with an italian meringue which I’ve read is more stable and creates a less temperamental macaron. It worked superbly!

raspberry macarons with chocolate ganache filling

Some other things I made sure to do this time:

  • No plastic bowls, I used a glass mixing bowl for the egg whites. Plastic absorbs oils. Meringue and oil are not good friends.
  • Dry out the ground almonds beforehand. Spread the ground almonds on a baking tray and give it 10 minutes on a low heat to get rid of any excess moisture.
  • Weigh every ingredient. I finally have kitchen scales to measure precisely with. In the past I tried to convert from grams to cups which obviously didn’t work out well. Don’t be lazy, weigh it out and check it twice.
  • Sift the almonds and icing sugar together. Sometimes in a recipe the sifting is expendable, this is not one of those times.
  • Stir the meringue into the almond and icing sugar mixture just the right amount. Not too much mixing, not too little. The batter should coat the spatula heavily and drip off in a thick ribbon.
  • Leave the piped macarons to rest on the baking trays for at least 15 minutes before putting them in the oven. This allows the outside to harden slightly so they’ll bake smooth on top with nice ruffly feet.
  • Tap the baking trays lightly on the bottom after piping the macarons so they settle flat with no air pockets.
  • Cool the cooked macarons on the baking paper for at least 30 minutes before attempting to peel them off.

For a full tutorial on how to make macarons with italian meringue, I suggest you study up here or here.

macaron feet

Raspberry Macarons with Chocolate Ganache Filling

Makes approx 2 dozen macarons

  • 150g dry ground almonds
  • 150g icing sugar
  • contents of 2 raspberry teabags
  • 120g egg whites (room temperature)
  • 150g + 35g granulated sugar
  • 50ml water
  • Red gel food coloring
  • 150g dark chocolate, broken into small pieces.
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream

Heat 1/2 cup cream until nearly boiling. Remove from heat and add chocolate pieces. Leave to sit for 5 minutes and stir until the chocolate is fully melted, mixed in and glossy. Set aside to cool.

Line 3 baking trays with parchment paper. Prepare a large piping bag with a medium/large sized tip. Pre-heat the oven to 150-160c.

Sift together the icing sugar, raspberry tea and ground almonds and set aside.
Set aside 60g egg whites in a small bowl. Put the remaining 60g egg whites in a large glass or metal mixing bowl.

In a small saucepan, heat 150g granulated sugar and 50ml water over a medium heat. Do not stir. You can swish the pan around once or twice to combine the water and sugar and use a wet pastry brush to push down any sugar grains that stick to the sides of the pan.
When the syrup starts to bubble, start beating the egg whites in the large bowl on medium low speed until foamy. Slowly add the 35g of sugar and beat to soft peaks. Keep an eye on your sugar syrup. You want to remove it from heat when it reaches the soft ball stage (110c).

Slowly pour the syrup into the beaten egg whites and mix on high speed until the meringue forms stiff peaks. Set aside to finish cooling.

Stir the remaining 60g of egg whites into the sugar/almond mixture and mix well. Add your food coloring now. You’ll need to use a heavy hand with the colouring as it lightens when the meringue is added and again when baked.

Add the meringue to the almond/sugar mixture and quickly fold it together. Use as few strokes as possible. The mixture should be uniformly coloured and without lumps but it’s crucial not to over-mix. Your batter should run slowly off the spatula in a thick ribbon.

Fill the piping bag and pipe 3cm macarons onto your baking sheets, spacing them a few centimeters apart.
Tap the completed tray of macarons gently on the counter and then allow the macarons to rest for at least 15 minutes.

Bake at 320-325°F for 14 minutes.
Once done, allow to cool completely before attempting to remove them from the baking paper.

Match the macaron shells into similarly sized pairs. Spoon the chocolate ganache into a piping bag. Pipe ganache and sandwich each pair of macarons together gently. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.

Apple and Blackberry Cake

apple and blackberry cake

We moved into a new house this summer. I’m quite smitten with it. Oodles of space for our little family, stained glass windows and original fireplace features. Also, a big back garden which has been awesome this summer for BBQs, picnics and for little m to run around in.

Garden and fox

We’ve never had a garden before and my gardening skills amount to less than zilch. I am a serial killer of houseplants. Even succulents and cacti are not safe in my care. This garden has roses, hydrangeas, apple trees and myriad other plants and weeds. Where to begin?! I have a lot of learning to do.

I’ve been greedily watching the two apple trees in the garden all summer – one eating apples, one cooking apples. Sadly the tree of eating apples only produced a dozen or so apples and after the birds and squirrels had their share we only had 5 little apples. How do you improve the yield of an apple tree?

Two of our precious apples went into this apple and blackberry cake. I love the combination of apples and blackberries. This is a cake that balances between summer and autumn. Plump, shiny, summer berries with the first of autumn’s apples. This cake is loaded with fruit, dense and moist. It could be served warm, swimming in custard or cold with a liberal dusting of icing sugar and a dollop of cream, moreish either way.

summer blackberries
apple blackberry cake

Apple and Blackberry Cake

Adapted from Allyson Gofton’s Bake. Makes one 10″ round cake.

  • 75g melted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons golden syrup
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 1 1/4 cups white flour
  • 2/3 cup brown flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups blackberries, fresh or frozen
  • 3 medium apples – peeled, cored and thinly sliced.
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 180c. Grease and line a large round cake tin.
Beat together the melted butter, sugar, golden syrup, vanilla and eggs in a mixing bowl. Stir in the sliced apples to coat them. Add the combined flours, baking soda and cinnamon to the bowl and mix together.
Spread half of the thick cake mixture into the base of the cake tin. Sprinkle most of the blackberries over the cake, pushing some further into the batter and leaving some resting on top. Spread the remaining cake mixture over top and press the remaining blackberries into the top of the cake.
Bake for 50-60 mins or until cooked through. The cake will brown a lot on the outside before it is cooked in the centre, test carefully with a skewer before removing from the oven. Rest cake in the tin for 10 minutes before turning onto a cooling rack.

Banana ice cream with cinnamon biscotti

banana icecream with biscotti

There is an edge in the air this week, the first reminder that summer is packing her bags and will soon be gone for another year. This makes me sad. I console myself in the knowledge that when autumn arrives, it will bring wonderful things like cinnamon, pumpkin and hearty soups.

In the meantime, I’m planning to wear out my ice cream machine and bask in the sunshine whenever I can!

This banana ice cream is delish now and will be perfectly appropriate for autumn too with its warming cinnamon and rum trimmings. Then when the cold really sets in you can switch to nibbling this cinnamon biscotti with a chai latte instead of ice cream. Enjoy.

ice cream with cinnamon biscotti

banana rum icecream

Banana Rum Ice Cream

  • 2 ripe bananas, mashed or pureed
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 2 tablespoons custard powder
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup white rum
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Dissolve the custard powder in a small amount of milk. Pour remaining milk into a saucepan. Add the sugar, cinnamon and the seeds scraped from the vanilla bean. Heat the milk but do not boil. Once hot, add the dissolved custard powder and stir continuously until the custard begins to thicken. Mix in the cream, banana and rum.
Refrigerate the mixture before churning in your ice cream machine.

Cinnamon Biscotti

Makes 12 biscotti, just enough for two

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • For the topping: egg wash, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 180c.
Stir together the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a small bowl.
In another bowl beat together the butter and sugar. Reserve a teaspoon of beaten egg and mix the remaining egg and vanilla extract into the butter and sugar.
Gradually mix the dry ingredients into the wet mixture and stir until the dough starts to come together.

On a lined baking tray press the dough into a log. Slightly flatten the log and brush with the egg wash. Sprinkle the combined sugar and cinnamon over the log and bake in the oven for 25 minutes. Remove from oven and leave to cool. Using a serrated knife, cut the log in diagonal slices roughly 1 1/2 cm thick. Place the slices back on the lined baking tray and bake for a further 20 minutes at 180c.

Cool and store in an airtight container.

Berry berry slice

blackberry raspberry slice plated

Summer is my favourite season and fresh berries are one of my favourite summer things. This slice tastes like summer. A thin buttery crust topped with plump blackberries and raspberries nestled in a custard pie filling. Nuff said. Here’s the recipe, do try it.

Berry berry slice

Loosely adapted from here

  • 1 cup white flour
  • 1/4 cup icing sugar
  • 115g butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup white granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup plain unsweetened yoghurt
  • 3/8 cup white flour
  • 3 cups fresh blackberries, raspberries, blueberries or similar

Preheat the oven to 175c. Grease and line a medium baking pan (mine was roughly 6 x 10 inches).

In a mixing bowl beat together the softened butter and icing sugar. Stir in 1 cup of flour and mix to form a soft dough. Press evenly into the bottom of the baking pan. This will form quite a thin layer. Bake for 15-20 minutes.

While the crust is baking, assemble the filling ingredients. In a mixing bowl beat the 2 eggs until frothy and light. Add the sugar, yoghurt and remaining flour and mix well.

While the crust is still hot from the oven, sprinkle the berries evenly over the crust and pour the filling over top. Place back into the oven for 35-40 mins.

Once cooled, slice into dainty squares and serve with a dusting of icing sugar and a dollop of cream. Yuuummmmm.

berry berry slice

Balsamic Strawberry Ice Cream

balsamic strawberry ice cream

The Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker that I was so delighted to receive for Christmas has been sadly idle for the last 7 months. Not due to a lack of interest on my part – I’ve been itching to use it for months, but because until now our freezer has been too small to fit the special freezing bowl doh! Now that we have a small chest freezer (hurray!!) I can finally start putting my Cuisinart to good use. With summer at its peak right now, it’s perfect timing.

I have lots of ice cream recipes on my must-try list for the summer but to start with I thought I’d go with a classic. Strawberry Ice Cream, simple and summery. The balsamic vinegar in this recipe might seem strange if you’ve never tried it before. Please trust me when I say that strawberries and balsamic were made for one another. My favourite way to eat strawberries now is soaked for 30 minutes or so with a good sprinkling of icing sugar and a dash of balsamic. You don’t taste the balsamic in this recipe, it just makes the strawberry flavour stronger, fuller, more intense with a pleasant edge to it.

finished strawberry ice cream

Balsamic Strawberry Ice Cream

  • 2 cups fresh strawberries, washed, hulled and roughly chopped
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 cups cream
  • 3 tablespoons custard powder

Combine the strawberries, sugar and balsamic vinegar in a saucepan and cook over a medium heat. Let the berries and sugar come to a low boil. Remove from heat once the berries are falling apart and it starts to reduce and get syrupy. Blend or mash to break the strawberries down further, or leave chunky if preferred. Set aside to cool. In another saucepan heat the cream and 3/4 cup of the milk over a medium low heat. Dissolve the custard powder in the remaining 1/4 cup of milk. Once the milk and cream is hot, gradually stir in the custard powder milk mixture. Stir as the custard begins to thicken. It should thinly coat the back of the spoon when done. Stir in the strawberries and set aside to cool. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours before churning.

You can serve the ice cream straight from the churn, soft-serve style (as pictured above) or spoon it into a container and store in the freezer for a few hours until it reaches a firmer consistency.

Update: I have amended the milk to cream ratio above as the original recipe (using equal quantities of each) was a little icy once in the freezer for a day or two.

Happy Easter

We are heading to the way-beyonds of south Cork tomorrow, taking a few days away to relax, sleep, eat and enjoy the outdoors. Before we go I thought I would leave you with some sweet easter treats.

easter cupcakes

Happy Easter!

These cupcakes were my first time adding malt powder to buttercream. Oh my. This is genius! So delicious I may or may not have eaten several spoonfuls straight from the bowl.

It was also my first time making filled cupcakes. These babies have a secret strawberry jam centre. Filling cupcakes is way easier than I imagined. My secret weapon was an apple corer. Press down gently while twisting the corer and a neat little round of cupcake comes away easily. You can even pop out the ‘core’ and put the top back on after you’ve filled them. I’m now dreaming up all the wacky things I could fill a cupcake with… any suggestions?

There is not a recipe as such, just a suggested cupcake combo. These are vanilla cupcakes with strawberry jam filling and strawberry malt buttercream. Do it!

You can use whichever is your favourite go-to cupcake recipe for these and fill each one with a generous teaspoon of homemade or store-bought preserves. Swirl generously with this (honestly A-Mazing) buttercream and decorate with mini eggs. Voila, sweet easter treats!
Have a happy Easter my friends.

Malted strawberry buttercream

  • 115g softened butter
  • 3 cups icing sugar
  • 2 tablespoons strawberry jam
  • 1/3 cup malt powder (eg. Ovaltine or Horlicks)

Beat the butter until smooth and gradually mix in the malt powder and half the sugar. Add the jam and stir. Gradually add more icing sugar until your buttercream reaches the desired consistency. Add more or less icing sugar as needed.