Saturday, 26 October 2013

Happy Hungry Halloween

Chocolate Spiderweb Cupcakes, see my recipe here 
 Skull & Blood Raspberry Jam Cake With White Chocolate, see my recipe here
 "Broken Bones" Toffee Hazel Loaf, see my recipe here
Gluten Free Chilli Brownies & Ghost Brownies, see my recipe here
Happy Halloween to you all!
 Come dance with the witches at my vintage style blog here.
Images 1, 2, & 6 via 1
Halloween Parties kindly hosted by Vanessa Valencia of A Fanciful Twist, click on the website link to see her own party in full swing!

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Halloween Invite

Yes, it's that time of year again!  My friend Vanessa of A Fanciful Twist will be holding her annual Halloween virtual tea party this Saturday, and we're all invited.
I plan to make a small but enjoyable appearance with my own little blog post here.
Here's what you need to know to join us:

Just leave a comment on Vanessa's blog telling her you'd like to join in, with details of your own blog address, and then she will add you to the guests attending.
On the day we all visit eachother's blogs, and maybe scare eachother silly...

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Gooseberry Crumble

When it comes to the crunch, nothing gives more comfort nor more satisfaction than eating a crumble made from fresh local fruit. Whether that's with gooseberries from the garden, or the newly harvested apples that are in the shops now, the humble crumble offers delicious rewards for a tiny fraction of one's time. I cooked this gooseberry crumble with our sharply sweet home grown pink gooseberries, but the recipe would work as well with tangy apples this autumn, you'll just need to stew the apples in a little water or apple juice before adding the crumble topping. You can add oats or nuts to the topping if you like, but I prefer to keep it simple.

Adapted from Nigel Slater's one in Real Cooking, buy the book from Amazon here.
 Serves 6-8
75g caster sugar (or more or less to taste, depending on the sharpness of the fruit)
approx. 800-900g gooseberries
170g plain flour
170g unsalted butter, cold and chopped into small pieces
170g light muscovado sugar
1. Place the berries in an oven proof dish and sprinkle with the caster sugar. Leave for half an hour.
2. Turn the oven to 200C (180C fan).
3. To make the crumble topping, rub together the flour and cold butter using your hands until it resembles breadcrumbs.
4. Gently stir in the muscovado sugar.   

5. Spoon the crumble topping over the fruit, and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes until golden brown on top, the beautiful juice oozing out of the sides of the topping.

6. Serve warm, with cream.

This crumble was idly baked while listening to Bach's Cello Suites

Monday, 26 August 2013

Orange Blossom & Almond Bird Cake

The beauty of this bake is that it is as simple, or as fancy, as you wish it to be. The base is a lovely zesty orange and almond country cake, the topping a super sweet fantastical affair.
I had a lot of fun decorating it; with a few cookie or icing cutters in pretty shapes you can let your imagination run wild.

My own recipe
Serves 8-10

100g ground almonds
200g plain flour,
200g unsalted butter
200g caster sugar
2 tbsps. whole milk
finely grated zest of an orange
1 tsp orange blossom water
1 tsp baking powder
3 large eggs
1 tbsp of jam
1 roll ready rolled white icing
Various food tint pastes or edible food colourings
Sugar flowers (optional)
Edible glitter (optional)

1. Turn the oven to 180C (160C fan ovens). Grease and line a 20cm cake tin.

2. Cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl until pale and smooth.

3. Add the first egg, beat well before adding the second along with a tablespoon of the ground almonds. Beat again, before beating in the last egg and another tablespoon of ground almonds.

4. Next gently stir in the rest of the ground almonds, the orange blossom water, and the grated orange zest.

5. Sieve in half the flour and the baking powder, and stir gently with a metal spoon until well combined.

6. Sift in the rest of the flour, after which spoon in the milk. Continue stirring gently and briefly until well combined.

7. Pour the batter into the prepared baking tin and place in the oven for approx 40 minutes. You'll know it's done when the top bounces back under your finger, and a skewer comes out clean.

8. Leave the cake to cool for 10 minutes in the tin, before turning it out onto a wire rack or plate.

9. Once cool, roll out the ready rolled white icing and cut into shapes with cookie cutters or icing cutters.

10. Heat the tablespoon of jam with some water, cool, then brush a thin layer over the base and the sides of the cold cake with a pastry brush. Stick the icing shapes in whatever pattern you fancy over the sides and top of the cake. Dot any gaps with ready made sugar flowers.

11. When all the shapes have been fixed to the cake, paint them whatever colours you want using a small paintbrush, food colour tint pastes or edible liquid colouring. Scatter edible glitter over the top.

12. Leave the paint on the shapes to dry, before serving with or without cream.

This cake was idly baked while listening to the Bat For Lashes album The Haunted Man

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Summer Pudding

I've always wanted to make a classic Summer Pudding, but it intimidated me: the architectural construction of firm-enough bread walls; the nerve wracking inversion of the pudding basin, watching with bated breath to see if the pudding would stay upright or collapse into a sad purple puddle. However, the other day I was lucky enough to help my dear Mother, a seasoned pudding maker, create one for her friends. It was so much easier than expected and has totally rid me of my Summer Pudding phobia, which is just as well as I have 4 bags of home grown blackcurrants waiting for me in the freezer.
Recipe adapted by me from one given in the book British Baking by Peyton & Byrne,  buy the book on Amazon


300g blackcurrants
200g redcurrants (or 100g more blackcurrants)
50g white currants (optional)
450g - 500g raspberries and/ or blackberries and/or blueberries
175g caster sugar
White best quality bread loaf (ideally slightly stale)
5 tbsp. Original Ribena (optional)
1 small sprig of mint (optional)

Serves 6-8

1. Put the blackcurrants, redcurrants, and whitecurrants into a large saucepan along with 115g of the caster sugar, and heat over a low temperature for 10-15 minutes, until the sugar dissolves. Occasionally stir the fruit, but not enough to break the berries up as they need to be kept intact rather than turn slushy.

2. After the currant berries have been on the heat for about 5 minutes, place the raspberries, blackberries or blueberries (or a mix of these) into a second, slightly smaller saucepan with the rest of the caster sugar.  Heat the fruit as above, on a low heat for 10 minutes, with an occasional gentle stir until the sugar dissolves.

3. Once both saucepans of fruit have released their juice and all sugar has dissolved, tip all the fruit into a sieve set over a bowl to catch the juice. Leave the fruit and the juice to cool for about 20 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, take out a 1 or 1.5 litre pudding basin. Cut the white loaf with a knife into thick slices. Then remove the crusts, and using scissors (which makes it much easier for some reason), cut each slice into three equal finger pieces, to fit around the sides of the bowl. Save one slice, with which to cut a circle shape slightly larger than the base of the pudding basin. If you wish to use the Ribena (which we didn't bother with), add it to the bowl of fruit juice at this point.

5. When the juice has cooled, dip the circle of bread, gently, into the juice so that both sides are covered and purple. Place the circle firmly into the base of the pudding basin.

6. Next dip each finger of bread, one by one, into the juice so that both sides are covered. Avoid wetting them so much that the bread starts to disintegrate - the bread needs to stay firm. Place the purple bread fingers lengthways up the bowl, bottom to top overlapping slightly and touching the circle at the base. Basically you want to ensure there are no gaps and every angle inside the bowl is lined by those overlapping bread pieces. Press them gently to fit them into place. You'll need to keep some bread fingers back to seal the base of the pudding once the fruit has been put in.

7. With the sides and base of the pudding basin lined with bread, carefully spoon the prepared fruit into the lining, and pour most of the remaining juice over the fruit. Then gently dip the last fingers of bread into any leftover juice, before using it to line the top of the pudding, overlapping them again so that the pudding is sealed. Spoon the last bit of juice over the sealed top.

8. Place a saucer (or small plate which fits just inside the rim of the bowl) over the top of the sealed pudding. Place several heavy weights (or a couple of full heavy cans) onto the saucer. Place the pudding in its dish onto a large plate which will catch any juice that may seep out. Chill in the fridge overnight, for about 12-24 hours.

9. To serve, remove the weight or cans, and the plate. Trim any edges of the bread wall as you would with the pastry of a quiche, to make sure the pudding is a nice circular shape. Gently run a small sharp knife around the edges of the pudding in the basin, to loosen it. Turn the pudding out carefully and slowly onto an upturned plate. Remove the basin. Top with a sprig of fresh mint or some reserved cooked berries. Cut into slices, and serve with or without cream!
This pudding was idly baked while listening to the news on Radio 4.

p.s. Thanks so much for all your incredibly kind words on this year's Mad Tea Party post.
Full recipes for all the cakes and treats featured are to come in upcoming posts.


Saturday, 13 July 2013

A Mad Tea Party for the Twelve Dancing Princesses

Are you sitting comfortably, my dears? Then I'll begin.
Once upon a time there was a White Queen. She invited her eleven sisters to take tea with her, and eagerly awaited their arrival.

She had heard tell of a wonderful phenomenon: Mad Tea Parties being held across the world, all taking place on one particular day, and led by the artist Vanessa Valencia of A Fanciful Twist, a great lady renowned for her own magnificently mad feasts.

The White Queen was the eldest of twelve dancing princesses.
Using carrier birds, she sent a note to each sister, with a date to gather them all together for the first time in what felt like so very long.

She lovingly prepared each sweet treat  for the tea party herself.
The rarest raspberries, which she used to flavour a creamy layered heart meringue were grown from her own palace garden, infused with the exquisite scent of rose petals.

Cakes had been baked, macarons made and she had even created her own juice, of beetroot and apple and carrot and grape and pretty much every fruit in the garden.
She sat herself down at the banqueting table and tasted her first treat, when who did she spy but a furry little friend.

It was Nico, the cat who had visited her Mad Tea Party last year!
"Welcome, welcome my dancing dear! But where is Emalina, oh puss? asked the White Queen, 'Why has she let you out alone this time?"

"Mistress Emalina sends her apologies, your Highness, sadly she cannot attend due to her many work commitments" purred Nico, "But I have grown, you see, and being no longer a kitten but a real lady cat, Emalina has let me come on my own. I have been waiting for the honour to attend your party all year, if you will have me."

"Why it is a delight to have you, sweet furry face" exclaimed the White Queen, "such a pleasure indeed. We are waiting for my eleven sisters to join us for tea, but there is no reason why we can't start feasting without them. They are dancing their way across the land to reach me via my style blog Kiki & the Gypsy, and may be some time. See those shoes, up on the pergola there? I have kept an old pair for each of us from our heady dancing days."

"Such beautiful shoes, oh Queen," cried Nico, her nose sniffing the air and her whiskers twitching, "But would you mind awfully telling me more about this feast? I so love to know what I'm eating before I eat it, it adds to the pleasure tenfold."

"Well, dear paws, we have home made rose macarons, and honeyed banana cupcakes, and orange blossom and almond bird cake, plus a heart shaped rose meringue layered with raspberry cream for pudding. Would any of that suit you? I know you're a feline of such discerning taste."


"Oooh honeyed banana cupcakes!" exclaimed Nico the cat, her nose twitching more, "I do so enjoy a cupcake! These look delightful. How clever of you, my Queen, to have decorated them with the prettiest butterflies of the realm, I do so love a butterfly too! Extra crunch!"

And with that, Nico swiped a blue cupcake with her paw and proceeded to munch upon it noisily.
The White Queen watched her, smiling, before quietly and secretly cutting herself a slice of the layered creamy meringue heart.

Once they'd both munched and sipped and were resting their bellies, the White Queen took out an unusual looking mirror. She held it to her face, as if to look through it. But all Nico could see was the reflection of the wooden pergola shining back at her.

"I am watching my sisters dance across the land to me" murmured the White Queen "for this is a magic mirror. It helped me find the way many times as I led my sisters through golden woods, silver forests and diamond fields in our heady dancing days."

"May I look?" asked Nico, intruiged.
"I cannot allow you, my dear puss," said the White Queen, "for while you may be an exceptionally pretty and loveable little cat, you have not been taught how to use magic.
What you may do is listen to my sisters' shoes, hear how they start to hum and buzz with excitement as their owners grow near."

It was not just the princesses' shoes that were humming. The plants in the White Queen's garden were teaming with a buzzing sound. What Nico had taken to be the sound of bees pollinating the flowers was actually a deep tone resonating from the flowers themselves.

Even the White Queen's beautiful  floral crown was humming with pleasure, the flowers clearly full of life and optimism. 
"We cannot help it" exclaimed the White Queen, pointing to her crown, " We are all so thrilled to see my sisters again!"

"I am delighted for you, your Highness!" purred Nico, "Congratulations on your happy day. Now I'm just wondering, would it be impertinent to ask for a slice of the orange blossom and almond bird cake? And may I ask, does it include real birds? I do so love a bird."

"Help yourself, kitty" said the White Queen "although I must warn you these birds are not of the meat variety, but are made from icing. They're still delicious though, as are the rose macarons of various sizes. Do try them too, they were awfully hard to make but so sublime to taste that they were certainly worth the effort."

"Macarons are a little too small for my liking, even the big ones Ma'am. But those honeyed banana cupcakes on the other hand, those are just the size for a grown up lady cat like myself, so don't mind if I do...."

As Nico ate some more - for she was a greedy little kitty - the White Queen fussed over the table, adding the finishing touches to her feast. Fans and wild flowers, rose tea in a teapot and fresh camellias in vases, it could not have looked lovelier for her sisters' return.

The sun shone brightly as Nico gave herself a clean, unashamed of her gluttony, but pleased that she'd shown restraint enough not to eat it all. There would be plenty of treats left for the dancing princesses.

The air grew still and calm but the humming sound grew nearer, and with it a hundred larks appeared in the sky, to circle above the banqueting table. Nico held her breath as she watched them. There'd be no real birds to eat today, these were swooping and ascending with such skill and grace she knew that they could more than outwit her.

"The time has come," proclaimed the White Queen, "the time we've been waiting for my loyal and furry friend. I can see in the mirror my sisters are approaching!"

And suddenly there they were, sashaying and twirling and leaping as they danced their way into the White Queen's garden. The Mad Tea Party was complete!

Oh how the land rejoiced to see all its beloved sisters together at last!
It was a party to beat all parties, one of laughter and warmth and feasting and enormous hugs.
I cannot tell you all that happened, for only little Nico the cat stayed with the White Queen and her sisters until the very end.
But I do know this. Once it was over the White Queen's pergola was aburst with colour, as if every flower in the kingdom had also danced and laughed and exploded with happiness.
And all that was left to show of the dancing princesses?
One very worn, but still humming, pair of red sequin shoes. 
Happy Mad Tea Party everyone! Thanks so much for popping by.
Please don't forget to visit the dancing princesses at my style blog Kiki and the Gypsy, where there's more fairytale inspired photography of them dancing their way to the White Queen's tea party.
All cake and dessert recipes are to come in future posts.

Click here to see my 2012 Mad Tea Party post.
Now I'm off to visit your mad tea parties!

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Invitation to The Mad Tea Party 2013

Psssst! Said the White Rabbit, News just in!
The marvellous Vanessa Valencia of A Fanciful Twist has invited us to her 6th annual Mad Tea Party!
With cakes, and sweets and oh so many delights, it's going to be the blog party of the summer!
I'm already making plans for the Idle Bakes party feast, it's going to be scrumdidlyumptious! 
Do hope you can visit us online come the 13th July, and even feel inspired to join in the fun by throwing your own Mad Tea Party too!
More details of how to throw your own party are given at A Fanciful Twist, it's oh so easy, you know you want to....