White Chocolate Cigarello Birthday Cake

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I have a lovely friend who is celebrating a birthday today. She’s one of those rare gems who is as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside. She spends so much time looking after everybody and is so generous in every sense of the word she definitely deserves to be spoilt on her birthday. I wanted to make her a cake that reflects her: beautiful, elegant and very special. Cue the cigarellos…

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These rolled chocolate straws instantly add a little sophistication to any cake. I used these from the Chocolate Trading Co.

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I like making cakes that have three thin layers of sponge as I think they look lovely when cut, and allow for more filling (which incidently is very forgiving should you accidentally over bake them. The extra filling helps moisten the sponge). I just used a basic Victoria sponge recipe which you can find here, on the BBC Good Food website. If you’re doing three layers I suggest reducing the oven temp to 160oC, and the time to between 12-15 mins.

Once cooled, fill your cake with whatever you want. I used seedless raspberry jam this time.

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Now you’re ready to proceed with the decorating. Make a generous amount of buttercream using a pack of unsalted butter, icing sugar, a couple of tsps of vanilla bean paste and a few splashes of milk to loosen. The consistency should be spreadable, but still fairly stiff. Secure your cake to the cake board using a dollop of buttercream. I find it easiest to pipe the buttercream onto the cake, starting with the gaps around the edges.

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Once you’ve filled the gaps in, continue piping until the entire cake is covered with a thick layer. This doesn’t have to be neat.

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Now take a palette knife and smooth the surfaces down. Again, don’t worry about getting perfect edges as it’s all going to be covered with the cigarellos and fruit.

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Wipe away any stray smears of buttercream off the board. Now you’re ready to start attaching the cigarellos by gently pushing them into the buttercream, which is effectively used as glue to hold them in place. Start at the back of the cake if you’re adding any additional decoration to the front (a name on the board for example). You will end up with something similar to this:

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I decided to top mine with strawberries and raspberries. Wash and hull them and dry well on paper towels. Take the largest strawberry and cut the point off the end. Push a candle in and add a dollop of leftover buttercream to the bottom before securing it to the middle of the cake.

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Now add the rest of the fruit, strawberries first to avoid crushing the delicate raspberries. Crush a couple of cigarellos in your hand and sprinkle over the fruit as a final flurry!

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The birthday girl was happy!

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Ginger and Fennel Syrup

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A couple of weeks ago my friend, and fellow blogger Sam (from Me and my Second Self), and I, had a little jaunt out to Silverdale to do a recce on a campsite we’re thinking about booking for a church camping trip in the spring.

We chose the wettest, windiest day of the year to do this. It could not have been wetter!H

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Here we are soaked to the bone, dripping hair plastered on our faces and waterproof jackets anhilated…

So, after we’d succumbed to the wrath of the Great British weather, we called in at the Wolfhouse Kitchen for a spot of lunch, and to warm up and dry out. The food there is fantastic and I really couldn’t fault my celeriac rosti with wilted greens, poached duck egg, chilli and peanuts. It was a taste sensation. Sam and I both enjoyed a ginger and fennel hot chocolate too. I’d never experienced ginger, fennel and chocolate together before but the flavours really work. It inspired me to have a go at making my own ginger and fennel syrup and I finally got around to doing it today.

I’ve made a large batch with the intention of giving it away as Christmas presents, so, if you want to, quarter the recipe to give a smaller batch. I used:
1200g sugar
800ml water
A large chunk of ginger root
4 tablespoons fennel seed
1 tablespoon of ground ginger

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Scrub the ginger (but there’s no need to peel) and slice thinly. Put the fennel in a dry pan and toast lightly until you get a whiff of that distinctive aroma. Bash the seeds up a bit with a mortar and pestle to realease the flavour, but don’t grind them to a powder.

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Put all the ingredients in a large pan and bring to the boil. Simmer for about ten minutes until the syrup starts to thicken. Your kitchen will smell divine!

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While the syrup is thickening sterilise a large jar or bottle. I use my daughter’s old bottle steriliser to do this, but there are various methods, just have a look online if you’re unsure. Poor into the jar/bottle, seal and leave to cool.

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Once cooled I opened the jar and strained the ginger slices and fennel seeds out, re-boiled the syrup and re-sterilsed the jar before decanting the syrup back into the freshly sterilised jar. At this point you could decant into smaller bottles (which is what I would have done had I been organised enough to buy some!).

You can use this syrup however you wish. The initial distinctive aniseed flavour of the fennel, is followed by deep warming ginger tones and it works well as a cordial, over ice cream, to add a wintery touch to a fruit salad, in coffee, or best of all in a hot cocoa, served with whipped cream and a sprinkling of ground fennel, ginger and cocoa.

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Watermelon "Cake"

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On my eternal quest to provide healthy but interesting cake alternatives at the social action and outreach events our church puts on, I had a go at a watermelon “cake” I’d seen on Pinterest, adapting the recipe to use a healthier buttercream alternative.  I say “cake” as it is actually just fruit, yoghurt, vanilla bean paste, cream cheese and toasted flaked almonds.

Cut a watermelon into a rough cake shape.

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Beat 100g light cream cheese then add 250g fat free Greek yoghurt and a tablespoon of vanilla bean paste.  Taste the frosting and if it’s not sweet enough for you add in one or two tablespoons of icing sugar. I don’t think it’s necessary  really as the vanilla sweetens it beautifully.

Cover the melon with the frosting.

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Lightly toast a couple of handfuls of flaked almonds in a dry pan, allow to cool then sprinkle on around the base. Decorate with whatever fruit you fancy and leave in the fridge for the frosting to set a little. Slice and enjoy… Guilt free!

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Fruit bread

Is there anything better than the smell of bread baking in the oven? Well yes, there is. Cue the fruit loaf.  Perfect on a cold and wet Sunday afternoon with a cuppa, this rich and sweet bread will certainly warm your cockles.

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You’ll need:
300ml milk heated to boiling point then left to cool until warm.
500g strong bread flour
200g mixed fruit
1tsp salt
7g quick yeast
75g caster sugar
50g very soft butter
3tsp ground cinnamon

Mix the flour, sugar, butter, cinnamon, salt and yeast together before drizzling in the warm milk. Mix in the fruit and knead the dough for 5 or so minutes on a floured surface until it’s smooth and elastic.

Put the dough in a greased bowl and cover loosely with clingfilm. Leave somewhere warm to prove for an hour or until doubled in size.

Knock the dough back and knead again. Divide into two and put in greased loaf tins. Leave to prove for another hour then bake at 180oC for about 30 minutes or until golden and hollow sounding when tapped on the underside.

Melt some apricot jam and use a pastry brush to glaze the top of the loaf. Enjoy warm with butter. 

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Vanilla Scotch Pancakes

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We love a good pancake in our house, be that a crepe, American style or a good old Scotch. These are really quick and easy to whip up and can be adorned with pretty much anything you choose.

You’ll need
300g self raising flour
250ml milk
2 large eggs
80g caster sugar
1 heaped teaspoon of baking powder
2 teaspoons of vanilla bean paste
And of course whatever toppings you choose.

Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl. Beat in the eggs one at a time and drizzle in the milk and vanilla to form a thick batter.

Heat a nonstick frying and pan over a medium heat and swab with a little vegetable oil using a wedge of folded up kitchen roll.

Use a dessert spoon of batter per pancake and when you see bubbles starting to form on the top of the batter they’re ready to flip.

These are really easy to reheat in a toaster so I tend to make the whole lot, use what we want then either freeze the remaining, or put them in a bag to toast the following day.

These are Phoebe’s topped with yoghurt and strawberries and grapes. She loved them!

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Ste and I had ours with butter and maple syrup (wish I’d had some smoked bacon in too!)! Not quite as healthy but I did wash mine down with a green nutribullet smoothie!

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Humble (crumble) Pie

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Pie or crumble? One of life’s great conundrums! Now you can have your pie and eat it along with the crumble, all as part of the same pudding. Happy days!

Grease two 8 inch shallow cake tins/or pie dishes, before lining with a thin layer of shortcrust pastry. Homemade or shop bought, both work. I actually used shop bought as I had a block in the freezer I needed to use up. Prick with a fork, then put a piece of greaseproof paper on top of each and fill with lentils, rice or baking beans. Bake in a preheated oven at 180oC for twenty minutes or until golden and crispy.

While they are baking, prepare the crumble topping by blitzing 125g of each butter, light brown sugar, and self raising flour in a food processor. It will start to clump together and at this point add in a couple if handfuls of oats and mix with your hands to ensure the oats stay whole rather than being pulverised by the processor.

Leave the pie crusts to cool slightly before filling with cooking apples, blackberries, blackcurrants or whatever fruit you fancy.

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Sprinkle over about 50g of caster sugar then top with the crumble. Bake for 30-40 minutes until the fruit is tender and serve with custard.

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You can freeze one of the pies for use at a later date of you want or give it to a neighbour like we did. Enjoy!

Chocolate and peanut butter cheesecake

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This cake is not for the faint hearted, or weak hearted for that matter. If you’re watching your calorie intake you’re reading the wrong blog, as this is the ultimate in chocolate peanut butter blow outs.

A friend had given me a jar of chocolate spread, and because it’s not the type of thing I’d usually spread on my toast I wanted a recipe to use it up. Hence coming up with this beauty!

For the base I used a packet of chocolate digestive biscuits, some salted peanuts, and melted butter. Having accidently put too much butter in the biscuit crumbs, I needed to ad-lib a little using whatever I could lay my hands on to soak up the excess butter, as we didn’t have any other biscuits in. So, some pretzels and granola later the base was ready. I pressed it into a springform tin and chilled it whilst making the topping.

The topping was completely made up as I went along. I whipped approx 300ml double cream  then mixed in 500g mascarpone, a jar of smooth peanut butter and a jar of chocolate spread. It needed a bit of something sour to cut through the richness and about 200ml of natural yoghurt did the trick.  After spreading the topping on the base I drizzled about 50g melted milk chocolate over the cheesecake and sprinkled with crushed salted peanuts. Leave to set in the fridge over night.

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This dessert was one of a few I did for a welcome home party for some friends who had just arrived back from a round the world adventure.

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I also did a rhubarb, strawberry and rose water pavlova:

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Mini creme pat and filo, fruit tartlets (recipe here) :

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A fruit platter and a cheeseboard.

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It was a great success and a lovely evening was had by all.

Simply stunning and stunningly simple fruit tartlets

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I don’t know about you but I find great satisfaction in serving guests scrumptious little morsels that taste as delicious as they look. These fruit tartlets definitely fall into the edible art category, but they are ridiculously simple to boot. Happy days.

Firstly, make a Creme Patissiere (pastry cream).This can be made the day before and kept in the fridge until ready to serve. I used Raymond Blanc’s recipe on the BBC website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/pastry_cream_36417

Cut sheets of filo into squares and put one square into each hole in a cupcake tray, brush with butter the repeat until you have three layers. Bake for around 8 minutes until golden and crispy.

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Cut up whatever fruit takes your fancy. I used clementine, grapes, strawberries and blueberries.

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Spoon the Creme Patissiere into the filo tartlet cases and adorn with the fruit. Dust with icing sugar et voila. Enjoy immediately.

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