Christmas Pudding Cheesecake

Christmas and cheesecake; two of my most favourite things, so imagine my delight when I first tasted this culinary marvel last year. Probably the most iconic Christmas sweet combined with one of the most versatile desserts I can think of and I knew I wanted to create my own version for this years festivities. Very rich, very decadent and highly calorific this is not an every day dessert, but hey, it’s Christmas so surely we’re all allowed to indulge? This makes a huge cake which should easily serve 16-18. 

Firstly cook a standard sized Christmas pudding accord to the instructions on the packet. Once cooked, turn it out and break it up into little pieces allowing it to cool completely.

Whilst the pudding is cooling, make a start on the cheesecake by melting 100g butter and mixing it into 300g crushed ginger biscuits mixed with 1 tsp of ground cinnamon.  Press into the bottom of a large springform tin and put in the fridge to chill while you make the cheesecake mixture.

Whisk together 300ml creme fraiche, 500 ml Double cream, 100ml Baileys (you can omit this if you want, just replace with another 100ml of cream), 400g full fat cream cheese and 1 tsp vanilla bean paste until well combined and nice and thick. Fold in the cooled christmas pudding (making sure it is completely cold otherwise it’ll melt the cheesecake mixture) and spread on top of the ginger biscuit base.  

Chill overnight, or freeze for use at a later date.  Decorate with a spring of holly and serve with pouring cream. Delicious!

Surviving Christmas Dinner

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For many of us the thought of getting Christmas lunch to the table is a daunting one. The seemingly endless hours of preparation, the impending doom that is the threat of under cooked turkey, potatoes better suited to being fired out of a cannon than served on a dinner plate, and not forgetting the obligatory bitter, soggy sprouts.  It’s enough to make even the most au fait home cooks quake in our boots.

Rewind to Christmas 2003. I was a newlywed, 21-year-old girl who’d suddenly found herself  single-handedly cooking Christmas lunch for the in-laws at my parents house, who, incidentally weren’t there, as they were spending the holidays in New York with my sister who lived in Cape Cod at the time. I remember feeling pretty out of my depth about the whole thing, wanting to impress and, more importantly, not wanting to land my m-i-l in a&e with food poisoning on Christmas Day.  Thankfully, I’d had a practice run with my Dad who showed me what to do and when, writing down the methods and timings as we went. Thank goodness for Dad’s eh? Thirteen years later and I’ve built on my Dad’s way of doing things, adapting recipes to suit our tastes and learning a few new tricks here and there.

In this post I’m going to talk you through how I do Christmas Dinner. Firstly I want to make something quite clear…It is totally acceptable to take shortcuts.  It has taken me 13 years of marriage and a whole lot of soul-searching to actually get to the point where I am comfortable in saying that it is perfectly ok to use frozen parsnips and stock from a cube! It’s Christmas Day for goodness sake. You should be spending it with your loved ones, not chained to the kitchen. This is quite comprehensive, but don’t be put off, just pick and chose the bits that work for you.  Another tip is to invest in plenty of disposable foil trays.  It makes clear up so much easier!

Lets begin:

The Pescatarian: My Christmas dinner actually starts a couple of weeks prior to the big day where I set aside some time to bake. My husband is a pescatarian so I try to make him a decent alternative to the traditional turkey or goose.  Last year he loved my Vegetarian Christmas Dinner Pie so much he has requested it again. After baking I simply freeze them and take one out on Christmas Eve to defrost before putting it back in the oven for twenty minutes to reheat.  Perfect. That’s the veggie sorted.

Turkey Butter: I also often make Herby Butter to slather under the skin of the turkey before roasting to add flavour and help to keep the meat moist.  This too can be frozen and taken out a day or so before you want to adorn the bird with it. Finally, if you should wish to make your own stuffing (bearing in mind loads of supermarkets are now stocking their own wide variety of flavours) I can recommend Delia’s Pork & Chestnut Stuffing recipe, which can also be made in advance and frozen.

Stock: Now, I realise I’ve already said it’s fine to use pre-made stock, and it absolutely is, but should you be inclined to make your own here’s how I do it, and the benefit of doing it this way is that you can do it way in advance. Throughout the year I save up any chicken bones and freeze them in a ziplock bag.  Every time I cook a chicken I strip it and add the bones to the bag.  Once the bag is full I roast them in a hot oven for 30 mins, then throw them in the slow cooker with a couple of carrots, celery and leak, cover with boiling water and leave them to cook for about 48 hours, topping up the water when necessary. After a couple of days drain to remove the bones and vegetables and you’ll be left with the most amazing stock.  Leave to cool and then freeze in a ziplock bag.

Pigs in blankets: Again you can make these ahead, put them in foil trays, freeze and cook on the day. An even easier option of course would be to buy pre-prepared ones and freeze.

Seriously, if you have a freezer, use it to your advantage. You’ll thank it on Christmas Eve when you’re taking all the stuff out of it and have halved your prep time.

Right, lets move forward to Christmas Eve:

Firstly, if you haven’t already take all the goodies you’ve already prepped out of the freezer to defrost. Now allow yourself and hour and a half or so to get all the following done (allow longer for cooking the ham).

Ham: If you’re planning on serving ham with your Christmas Lunch I’d get it on in the morning. I swear by Nigella’s Ham in Cola recipe.  It really is delicious and like all of her recipes, pretty straightforward. You can either serve it cold or heat it up right before serving.

Roast Potatoes: Everyone loves a good roast spud, but who wants to be peeling a bag of maris pipers on Christmas morning?  Definitely not me. I prep mine on Christmas Eve following my Ultimate Roast Potato recipe. Instead of cooking them all the way through though, I put them in a hot oven for 40 minutes to get them going then remove, allow to cool and put in the fridge to finish off for another 45/50 minutes on Christmas Day.

Cauliflower Cheese: While the potatoes are getting their sizzle on in the oven make a start on the cauli.  I’ll be using my Whole Baked Cauliflower Cheese recipe, but should you wish to segment the cauli to make serving it up easier than just reduce the steaming time to about 5 minutes.

Carrots and Broccoli: I just tend to wash and prep these and put them in the steamer ready to go the following day.

Braised red cabbage: Again this is something a lot of supermarkets are now selling pre-prepared, but should you wish to make your own, I love this BBC recipe and you can easily reheat it the following day.

Sprouts: After washing and removing and tough outer leaves, I slice them in half, throw them in a roasting tray with a good glug of oil, some diced pancetta (or bacon) and a couple of cloves of garlic, season with salt and pepper and pop them in the fridge for the following day.

The Turkey: The main event! The star of the show! The one thing you really want to get right. If you’ve bought frozen make sure you allow plenty of time for it to defrost in the fridge.  Remove the giblets and save for the gravy. Gently slide your hand in between the meat and the skin.  It should come away fairly easily and you’ll be able to smear the herby butter in between the flesh and the skin, and on top of the skin on the legs.  Stuff the neck cavity with the pork and chestnut stuffing, but I tend to leave the cavity empty. Crisscross smoked streaky bacon on top. Cover with foil and put back in the fridge.

Christmas Morning:

Whack the oven up to full blast and pour yourself a bucks fizz, glass of prosecco or something stronger if you’re hardcore.

Turkey: Take it out of the fridge about an hour before you want to cook it to bring it back up to room temperature. Pop it in the oven then immediately turn the oven down to about 180oC. Baste it every 45 minutes or so with all those lovely juices. This year I’ll be getting an 8 or 9kg bird as we’re feeding a crowd, and it will probably take between 4 and a half and 5 hours to cook. I’ll probably put it in the oven at 8am, and expect it to be ready between 12.30pm and 1pm.  About half an hour before the allotted time remove the tin foil to allow the bacon to crisp up a bit. Once the juices run clear from the thickest part of the thigh it’s done. Remove from the oven, cover in with two layers of tin foil and place two clean tea towels on top.  It will happily rest here for an hour until everything else is cooked and you’re ready to serve and by that time the meat will be lovely.

Gravy: Once you’ve got the bird in the oven take your giblets, and a diced onion and saute in a pan with some oil. Add in the stock, some sage and a bay leaf, and simmer continuously for a couple of hours adding more stock or water as needed.  Add in the juices from the turkey once it has cooked, and thicken with cornflour. Taste and season accordingly.  Pass through a sieve to remove all the bits et voila, beautiful gravy.

Everything Else: When the turkey is cooked and is resting, it’s time to get on with everything else.

  • Put the part cooked potatoes on the top shelf and the parsnips just below.  I will be cheating on the parsnips and relying on good old Aunt Bessie because her parsnips are arguably the best I’ve tasted!
  • While they’re cooking slice the ham, put in a dish with a tablespoon of water and cover with foil.
  • After 20 mins toss the parsnips and potatoes and put them back in along with the cauliflower cheese, brussels sprouts, pigs in blankets and veggie pie if you’re doing it.
  • Cook for another 20 mins before adding the sliced ham and red cabbage to the bottom of the oven to warm up.
  • Add boiling water to the bottom of the steamer and steam the veggies for 8 minutes. Pour the water away but leave the lid on to prevent over cooking.  There’s nothing more disgusting than soggy broccoli.
  • Stick the plates in the microwave to warm along with the bread sauce (again I will be cheating on this year and buying it pre-made)
  • Put the turkey on a platter and surround it with the pigs in blankets and roasties.
  • Put the veg in serving dishes.
  • Get a helper to move it all out onto the table.
  • Top up your wine glass and…….

ENJOY!

Phew!  I’m exhausted just thinking about it! Of course the other option is doing what by BFF does every year and ordering it all in ready prepared on foil trays….now there’s a thought!

 

Meringue Christmas Trees

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We had a text from school today asking for cake donations for the kids Christmas party in two days time! There’s nothing like a bit of notice is there?! Anyway, it was our day off, and I happened to be at home, so I had time to rustle something up. I wanted something easy, and straightforward, which didn’t require many ingredients, but at the same time, something the kids would love, and that looked festive. These simple little meringues were just the ticket.

When making meringue my general rule of thumb is 1 egg white to 50g caster sugar. I whisked 2 egg whites until frothy before adding in 100g caster sugar a dessertspoon full at a time. Halfway through adding the sugar I added a couple of blobs of green food gel.

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Once the meringue was stiff and glossy I put it into a piping bag with a large nozzle and piped little Christmas tree shapes on a lined baking tray. I got 17 out of this batch.

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I put them on the middle shelf of the oven, which I’d preheated to 100oC. The key to these meringues is to cook them low and slow. That way they’re crispy and light all the way through. I cooked these for two and a half hours, then turned the oven off leaving the door shut until they were completely cool.

Once cool, I melted 50g each of milk and dark chocolate in a bain marie and dipped the bottoms of the trees in. Now, had I had any rolos in the house, I would spooned a little melted chocolate on top of an upturned rolo, and stuck the tree on top to give the effect of a trunk. But, I didn’t have rolos, so dipping had to suffice.

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I put the remaining choc in a pipping bag and used it as glue stick on little decorations. Edible glitter and dust gave them a final flourish.

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No doubt the kids will love them…not sure the same could be said for the parents come bedtime!

Cinnamon and Nutmeg shortcrust pastry mince tarts

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We all love a mince pie at Christmas, but what I don’t understand is why people would buy generic shop varieties when they are so simple to make. Homemade pastry has a reputation for being tricky, but really it’s not rocket science. I like to spike mine with cinnamon and freshly ground nutmeg to  bolster the festive flavours.

You’ll need:
200g plain flour
2 tablespoons icing sugar
100g cubed cold butter (I used salted)
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 a grated nutmeg
Two or three tablespoons of iced water.

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Pulse all the dry ingredients together in a food processor until breadcrumbs are formed. Now while the processor is running dribble in a tablespoon of iced water at a time until the dough clumps together. This will only require 2-3 tablespoons of water (a tablespoon is 15ml).

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Tip it out into a piece of clingfilm, and quickly bring it together to form a disc without over working it or handling it too much.

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Refrigerate the disc of dough for at least half an hour.

After it has chilled roll it out to the thickness of a pound coin, cut out discs and line a muffin tin with them. Refrigerate again whilst you cut out some shapes to top your tarts.

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Fill your cases with a teaspoon of mincemeat. I used some which was homemade by a friend, but you could use shop bought too.

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Brush with an egg wash and bake at 160oC for about 12-15 minutes, or until they are golden. Pop them out of the tin and leave on a wire rack to cool.

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See, that was easy wasn’t it?! Enjoy!

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Chestnut & Pecorino "sausage" rolls

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Firstly, let me start by saying the only thing sausage about these sausage rolls is the shape. There is no pork in these bad boys! The usual cheese and onion roll substitute is undeniably delicious, however these are, well, a little more meaty and make good use of a couple of key seasonal ingredients.

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I used two 180g bags of cooked chestnuts, grinding one bag up with the grinding blade of my nutribullet and roughly chopping the other. I mixed these with wholemeal breadcrumbs made from two slices bread, two crushed garlic cloves, a wedge of pecorino cheese grated, salt (although be sparing as the cheese is quite salty), pepper and a handful of chopped parsley.

Mix the ingredients together and then bind them with a couple of beaten eggs. Tip the mixture onto a sheet of clingfilm and roughly shape into a a sausage.

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Wrap the clingfilm around it, rolling as you go until you get a long sausage shape.

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Chill in the freezer for half an hour. I had to chop mine in half to make it fit.

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In the meantime take one of two shop bought pack of puff pastry packs out of the fridge and roll out into a rectangle if it’s not pre-rolled. After half an hour take half of the mix out of the freezer and slice lengthways down the sausage to create two long half moon shapes. Lay them on top of the pastry as down on the pic below. Slice the pastry so each half of sausage as it’s own pastry rectangle.

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Spoon some cranberry sauce over the top.

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Egg wash around the side and fold the pastry over the top of the sausage crimping with a fork to seal.

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Trim the excess edges off to neaten, put on a tray and repeat with the other side. Chill in the fridge for another half an hour, then slice into inch wide pieces, score or prick the tops and brush on an egg wash.

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Bake at 200oC for about 20 minutes or until golden. Repeat with the second pack of puff, and the other half of the sausage which should still be in the freezer!

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Enjoy!

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Spiced ginger and date cake

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With the weather having turned and Christmas fast approaching I’ve found myself craving something warming and sweet to enjoy with a cup of coffee mid afternoon. Most days I have the willpower to resist, however this weekend I experimented with a basic ginger cake recipe, tweaking it with spices and dates.

The mini bundts went down well at a family meal served with custard and also the following day at church with a caramel drizzle, but to me, they were slightly dark and more pudding like than cake. So, with the school fair looming in Saturday I made some adjustments and came up with this easy recipe.

Boil the kettle and measure out 250ml boiling water.  In a blender cup (I used my nutribullet) weigh out 75g pitted dates and pour over the boiling water). Put the lid or blade on and leave until cool.

Whilst the dates are cooling cream together 125g butter and 125g caster sugar (I keep caster sugar in a jar with left over vanilla pods to add extra flavour) before adding in one large egg and 225g golden syrup. Beat together until fully combined then sieve in 300g plain flour, 1.5 tsp bicarb, 2 tsp each of ground ginger and cinnamon and half a teaspoon of ground cloves. Add in half a teaspoon of salt to offset the sweetness.

Whizz up the dates, and as the flour is combining with the wet ingredients drizzle in the date water.

Don’t be alarmed at how wet the batter is. Pour it into a well greased bundt tin, (or your tin of choice but be sure to adjust the cooking time accordingly) and bake for 35 mins at 170oC or until the cake springs back when lightly pressed, and a skewer comes out clean.

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Leave to cool in the tin for ten minutes before turning out.

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Because this particular cake is for the school fair, I baked a smaller cupcake version to cut into to show you the inside…

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Light and moist with a distinct ginger taste yet reminiscent of its delectable cousin the sticky toffee pud.

I plan to make a cheats caramel drizzle for the bundt by simply warming some condensed caramel up and spooning over the top. That can wait until Saturday though.

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Vegetarian Christmas Dinner Pie

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Being a pescatarian, hubby doesn’t partake in the traditional turkey/goose dinner on Christmas day, so I like to make something festive and delicious for him to enjoy instead.

This cranberry, chestnut and mushroom pie is just the ticket. Very savoury with the distinct taste of porchini mushrooms, spiked with delicious tangy  and sweet cranberry sauce encased in delicious shortcrust pastry, it’s sure to tempt even the most carnivorous family members.

Firstly make a batch of shortcrust pastry (or shop bought is fine if you prefer). In a food processor pulse together 450g plain flour, 200g cold cubed butter, a couple of pinches of salt, and a tsp freshly ground nutmeg. Once the butter and flour are combined add in approximately 6 tablespoons of very cold water, or just enough so the pastry clumps together. Put a piece of clingfilm on the work surface, tip the dough out onto it and quickly mould together into a disc shape. Wrap in the clingfilm and chill for at least half an hour (I actually left mine over night).

For the cranberry sauce wash a 300g punnet of fresh cranberries and put in a pan with 100ml apple juice and 100g light brown sugar. Bring to the boil and simmer, with the lid off, until it thickens, (around 10 minutes). Taste, add more sugar if needed and set aside to cool.

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Put a small handful of dried porchini mushrooms in a mug and fill the mug with boiling water. While the mushrooms are rehydrating sauté a finely sliced leek and 2 cloves of crushed garlic in a pan with butter and rapeseed/olive oil. Once softened add in two sliced portobello mushrooms and a couple of handfuls of sliced chestnut mushrooms and cook down. Remove the porchini from the mug, making sure you reserve the water as this will be the stock for the sauce. Roughly chop the porchini before adding into the pan with the leeks and mushrooms.

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Add in a third of a cup of plain flour and stir continuously making sure the mushrooms and leeks are well covered. Season with salt and pepper, a bay leaf and some fresh thyme. Add in the porchini water stiring continuously until you have a nice thick sauce. You’ll need to add in some extra water as you go. Turn the heat down and leave to simmer gently. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

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Now roll out the pastry to about the thickness of a pound coin and line individual pie cases leaving extra for the lids. Cover the lined pie crusts and lids in cling again and put back in the fridge.

While they’re chilling roughly chop 350g cooked chestnuts and add to the pie filling. Turn the heat off and leave to cool to room temp.

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Once the filling is cool, take the pie cases out of the fridge. Spoon a dessert spoon of the cranberry sauce in the bottom of each pie case.

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Then top with the chestnut and mushroom filling.

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Brush the edges of the pies with egg wash before making a hole in the lid, and placing it on top. Add a little extra cranberry sauce under the hole of the lid if you like. Crimp the edges with a fork and egg wash the top before adding any festive pastry embellishments. I simply cut out Christmas trees and stuck them on.

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Bake in a 190oC oven for 25-30 minutes until golden. I’m going to freeze these for Christmas and will just defrost in the fridge on Christmas Eve, before heating up for twenty minutes on Christmas Day.

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Christmas swirl scones

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Last year I shared my Cinnamon Swirl Scone recipe with you and was blown away by the positive feedback. This is an even more Christmassy version of it, using good old Christmas mincemeat. Like most of my recipes, it’s quick and easy, and can also be made ahead of time and chilled or frozen raw ready to be baked when impromptu, but welcome, Christmas guests turn up.

Make a basic scone dough like the one in the Cinnamon Swirl Scone recipe (I doubled it for this recipe as I was feeding a crowd), and roll out to a rough rectangular shape.

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Spread roughly 450g mincemeat over the dough leaving about an inch gap at one side.

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Roll up, wrap in greaseproof paper and chill for an hour, or freeze for use at a later date.

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Slice and bake at 180oC for approximately 20 minutes, or until golden.

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Slather in icing, or if you’re feeling very indulgent, icing sugar mixed with Baileys for a proper taste of Christmas.

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Festive Room Spray

Christmas is a season to indulge all the senses.  The sights, sounds, smells, delicious tastes and not forgetting having a cheeky squeeze of the presents under the tree in an attempt to work out what they are!

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Here’s a really easy but very effective way for you to help your home exude the warming smells of Christmas, plus these make lovely little gifts.

You’ll need a dark glass spray bottle (mine is 50ml), 25ml vodka, 25ml water (preferably distilled) and a few drops of your favourite Christmassy essential oils.  I used frankincense, cinnamon and a bit of pine.

Simply mix all the ingredients, pop a label on, and spray away! Christmas in a bottle!

Coconut oil and baking soda skin brightening scrub

My skin has felt a bit lacklustre recently, maybe due to the cold I’m fighting or maybe the change in weather as Autumn sets in. Anyhow, I wanted a little scrub to brighten my face and get rid of all those dead skin cells… Gross. We all know baking soda has a trillion uses, as does coconut oil, so I thought I’d combine the abrasiveness (that’s not even a word is it?) of the baking soda with the moisturising properties of the coconut oil.

I used two teaspoons of baking soda and one of coconut oil and blended into a paste. Use a spoon or stick as if you use your fingers it’ll melt (trust me it’s easier to get on your face if it’s slightly more solidified).

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Massage the paste into your face (it will start to melt at this point) avoiding the eye area. Leave it to work it’s magic for a couple of minutes while you’re in the shower or bath before rinsing off. Your skin will feel refreshed and slightly oily, but fear not, coconut oil absorbs very quickly leaving you with super soft and we’ll moisturised glowing skin.

If you enjoyed this post why not check out my Frankincense and cinnamon winter balm made using coconut oil.